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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 August 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 8

In This Issue

Editor's Page

Your Feedback Matters!

Technology and Productivity

Series: Removing the Stress from iOS: A Blueprint for Incorporating Touchscreen Products Into the Classroom, Workplace, and Community

Part IV: Creating, Editing, and Sharing Information

by Larry Lewis

Learn your options in creating, managing, and sharing documents via iOS and traditional notetaking devices, how to's, and pros and cons.

Product Evaluations

Can the iPad and an App Replace Electronic Magnifiers (CCTVs)? An Evaluation of SightTech's EyeSight App

by John Rempel

The EyeSight app and the additional hardware needed to turn the new iPad into an electronic magnifier may be a feasible solution for some people with low vision.

Product Evaluation: Victor Reader Stratus 12 M DAISY MP3 Player from HumanWare

by Deborah Kendrick

For a person who prefers having just one device for playing music, books, and text files, the Victor Reader Stratus maybe a great choice.

Service Organizations

Building Competence and Confidence: A Summer Program for Middle and High School Students at Baruch College

by Karen Gourgey, David Seyfert, and Lynnette Tatum

Summer seems an ideal time in which to create partnerships between teachers, school programs, and specialized programs that may offer students the chance to grow and gain confidence.

Commentary

Watching TV Blind: A Love-Hate Relationship: A Commentary

by Paul Schroeder

As federal regulations change, letting the networks know you would like to see more described programming is something we can all tune into.

Accessibility at Popular Vacation Destinations

Accessibility in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and the Busch Gardens Amusement Park

by Janet Ingber

A fun place to visit is the Williamsburg area of Virginia. Located approximately 150 miles south of Washington, DC, the area is home to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Center, and Busch Gardens. Each of these places has lots of hands on activities.

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor


Editor's Page

Your Feedback Matters!

Dear AccessWorld readers,

One year ago at this time, AccessWorld implemented a "Comment on this article" link at the end of each article to bring your comments, questions, and ideas right to my Inbox. Since that time, many of you, hundreds, in fact, have written to share your thoughts, and many letters are shared in the monthly Letters to the Editor column. These letters have been extremely valuable to the AccessWorld team and have helped us better understand your access interests and challenges.

For those of you who have written in, thank you, and for those who still haven't taken the opportunity, I encourage you to send me your comments on articles and your thoughts on any topics you would like to see addressed in AccessWorld.

The AccessWorld team hopes you enjoyed the July "Back to School" issue and gained information to help with getting ready for the upcoming school year. We would like to thank our sister site FamilyConnect for working with us to promote the "Back to School" issue to its visitors. If you are the parent of a child with vision loss or you know a child with vision loss, we certainly encourage you to visit Family Connect to learn about all its resources.

Also, if you are new to vision loss or know someone who is, we encourage you to visit AFBs new site, VisionAware, which has many resources, tips, and information on eye conditions for adults of all ages who are blind or visually impaired.

The AccessWorld team hopes you enjoy the August 2012 issue and encourages you to send us your feedback!

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman

AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Technology and Productivity

Series: Removing the Stress from iOS: A Blueprint for Incorporating Touchscreen Products Into the Classroom, Workplace, and Community

Part IV: Creating, Editing, and Sharing Information

Probably one of the most difficult subjects to write about regarding access to iOS devices is the concept of creating, editing, and sharing information with our sighted peers. To be sure, it's the most practical and alluring argument for those of us who operate within educational or professional capacities to move away from traditional notetaking and embrace the manner by which these devices, when used with other utilities and applications, enable us to easily share information throughout a predominately sighted classroom or workplace. Despite this truth, it's equally true that the manufacturers of today's dedicated notetakers have done a fantastic job of providing to us instant, robust word processing capabilities.

Without question, today's dedicated notetaker applications trump any iOS application when it comes to taking notes and creating, reviewing, and editing large documents. However, what happens to this information when it's to be shared with other sighted friends and colleagues who do not use such devices? Also, are the astronomical costs of these devices worth the convenience they provide?

I'll attempt to provide some guidance as you try to answer these questions, for they are important to ask and will shape the direction of your own access technology journey. I'll begin by discussing how information is shared via iOS technology and how it differs from the methods of notetaking technologies, enabling users to share information. Secondly, I'll discuss two types of tasks associated with word processing. I'll address the challenges of creating and editing text on iOS devices and conclude with some advantages and disadvantages of using iOS and notetaker options.

How Information is Shared

There are a couple of different ways individuals share information when using iOS devices. Keep in mind that when I refer to "sharing" information, I'm addressing the act of sharing information between or among multiple devices that the user may own as well as sharing information with other individuals who use similar devices. Undoubtedly, the most fundamental need had by those of us who use multiple devices is to keep all of our contacts, appointments, e-mails, favorite websites, and multimedia (such as music and documents) up-to-date on multiple devices. As much as I enjoy using my iPad, I still use a PC, which is common for many users. Even amongst those who have consumed an ocean of Apple "Kool-Aid" and have sworn off all things Microsoft, I'm willing to bet that they also use a Macintosh computer in conjunction with their iPad.

Sharing with iTunes

The most traditional means of sharing information between iOS devices is via the iTunes application, which can be loaded on a PC or a Mac. In the past, this application has been lacking on the screen reader accessibility front, but with each passing release, today's leading third party screen readers have done an adequate job of enabling us to access iTunes. The great thing about iTunes is that, when your iOS device is connected to your desktop computer via a USB cable, you're able to select the device within the iTunes application, navigate to the "Info" tab, and select which types of information you wish to synchronize between your computer and portable device. Unlike Microsoft's alternative utilities, there is no need to set up any complex partnerships between devices before synchronization can occur. I personally keep all my appointments, contacts, bookmarked websites, notes, e-mails, and music up-to-date on my iPad, and in Internet Explorer 9, and Microsoft Outlook 2010, and this method works fairly seamlessly.

Operating in the Cloud

There are other means of sharing information besides the traditional method of a connection via iTunes. We are witnessing a trend by which users of both access and mainstream technologies are beginning to operate within the "cloud," a term used when referencing cloud-based applications that enable users to share information. Historically, users have been forced to save shared information on complicated servers that have been managed by the well-meaning network administrators who maintain these servers. In more recent years, we have benefited from portable storage media like USB flash drives and portable hard drives that could be easily connected to different devices. However, these items are often susceptible to damage or to being misplaced.

When one operates from within the cloud, it simply means that the user is taking advantage of applications designed to run via a virtual server that takes up no space, is not susceptible to damage, and cannot be misplaced. The only concern associated with using cloud-based applications is users forgetting log-in information used to access these applications. These applications can also be hacked (as can any server), but security measures are ongoing to minimize this risk.

iCloud is Apple's means of taking advantage of this cloud-based technology. By means of your Apple User ID and password, you can share all of the aforementioned information through iCloud and access this information via all of your devices. It's a fantastic way to automatically keep all of your information current thus allowing you to access your most recent information on a device of your choosing in real time. Apple's iCloud application may be accessed onboard any of Apple's desktop or portable devices as well as Windows Vista and Windows 7 PCs, but the devices must be connected to a wireless Internet connection for information to be accessed and manipulated through iCloud.

Accessing Dropbox

A second popular cloud-based application used for data sharing is Dropbox. Users can sign up for a free account that nets them two gigabytes of storage by visiting the Dropbox website. There are also free applications for both Android and iOS users, making Dropbox an amazing cross-platform file sharing application. Dropbox is not designed to keep contacts and appointments current for personal productivity, but it is a first-rate collaboration tool allowing its users to create folders within their Dropbox account and access files, photos, and multimedia from any device on which they can either log in to Dropbox or install the Dropbox app. Users may also grant other users access to specific folders within their Dropbox account, which makes the sharing, accessing, and editing of information between others instantaneous!

Colleges, universities, and corporations are moving toward Dropbox-like applications because implementing them requires little to no space, and information can be shared and accessed among all parties on a device of their choosing. Lastly, those who use Dropbox can acquire more free space by referring their friends to Dropbox via the Dropbox website. Dropbox offers extremely competitive pricing for users wishing to purchase space for corporate use.

Before moving away from sharing, it's worth noting that there will always be those who wish to access hard copy print versions of information stored on an iOS device. You may print from all of these iOS devices providing that you are in range of a wireless, iOS device-enabled printer when you select "Print," which is most often found when accessing the "Share" button from within specific word processing applications. The iOS device will scan for such printers and present a list from which you may choose.

Two Types of Word Processing

Before undertaking the process of creating and editing data on an iOS device, it's important to ask yourself this question: What do I wish to accomplish? There are many different types of tasks associated with word processing, ranging from taking a simple note to writing for the next Pulitzer Prize. I categorize word processing tasks into two general categories: notetaking and file or document management. There are a couple of iOS applications that I use to accomplish these two groups of word processing tasks.

A great free application for taking and sharing notes is the PlainText application. As its name suggests, PlainText is a very simple text editor designed for the Dropbox user to share files among an iOS device and other computers linked to the user's Dropbox account. Once PlainText is installed on the iOS device, a PlainText folder is created within the user's Dropbox folder. Any file created by PlainText and saved in this folder can be accessed and edited by the user using any handheld or desktop computer able to access the Dropbox account. For example, when I was in a government agency in Washington DC, I used my iPad and refreshable braille display to take notes during a series of meetings that lasted about six hours. I flew home that evening, and when I logged into my Dropbox account on my computer, all of the PlainText notes on my iPad were waiting for me to review, edit, and even share with others if I so desired.

PlainText is nothing fancy. It is a basic editor that saves files in .TXT format, but for taking notes, isn't that all one truly needs? I've spent time showing vision education teachers and their students how they might set up folders within PlainText by class subject and label their notes for these specific classes by the dates the lectures are given. This is just one example of how this basic yet powerful technology can be used. To reiterate, both PlainText and Dropbox are free apps, providing that you do not wish to exceed Dropbox's free storage capacity.

What do we have at our disposal when simple text editing isn't enough? Unfortunately, I haven't found a great number of iOS apps that provide seamless compatibility with Microsoft Office products. I found out the hard way last year how inaccessible QuickOffice is for Voiceover users.

So far, the best app that I can find that enables a user to import Word documents and edit them is the Pages app, which costs $9.99. Pages allows the user to create a file and export to Word, but it's not an intuitive process. Pages provides the ability to create and edit files and even has a fairly accessible toolbar to alter the fonts and positions of text, which the user selects within the open file. In short, I use Pages to review and edit documents, but I'm still not a proponent of doing all of my word processing on an iOS device.

For notetaker users, you'll find that it's not as simple as being able to press a key combination and make something happen within your file. You will need to locate and select your desired text before navigating to the Pages toolbar to perform specific actions. Lastly, while users can open and import files from Dropbox into Pages, it's virtually impossible to save these edits back to Dropbox directly. Unfortunately, the best work-around that Pages offers for saving these edits is for the user to e-mail the file as a Microsoft Word attachment to himself and save this file to the Dropbox folder. Users can accomplish this task directly from an iPad or iPhone. Again, it's not pretty, and I'm hoping that Pages decides to play well with Dropbox since I do prefer this app for file sharing over iCloud.

Editing Data

I touched on this in the second installment of this series, but I feel compelled to reiterate the obvious. If you are planning on doing any significant data entry and text editing on an iOS device, use an external QWERTY keyboard or, better yet, one of the numerous wireless refreshable braille terminals supported by VoiceOver. I know countless fully sighted iOS users who echo this sentiment. It's simply too time consuming and cumbersome to do any significant amount of text entry using Apple's onscreen keyboard with either Zoom or VoiceOver. While I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, for most of us, it's simply not an efficient way of completing the types of word processing tasks that I have described. I'm a strong proponent of using iOS devices to increase productivity and promote inclusion within various circles where we are working with predominately sighted peers. Why not maximize our efficiency and get on with the business of what we have to do by means of wireless QWERTY input or braille input/output?

iOS Devices Versus Notetakers

I'd like to conclude by briefly listing the disadvantages of iOS devices compared to their traditional notetaker counterparts when creating, editing, and sharing information followed by a list of advantages.

Disadvantages of iOS Technology
  1. Battery life: Dedicated notetakers boast battery lives ranging from 12 hours to 25 hours. There is no such luck for those of us who are using iOS devices and struggle to maybe get eight hours of continuous use out of these products.
  2. Instant on/off access: Again, proprietary notetakers get you where you need to be quickly. It takes a bit of time to turn on an iOS device, quickly connect it to an external QWERTY keyboard or wireless braille display, and then proceed with the task at hand.
  3. Intuitive word processing from within an application: I must admit that today's leading notetakers have a very bullet proof way for users to create, access, and edit large amounts of information quickly.
Advantages
  1. Synchronization: There's no question that it's a more seamless and doable process to synchronize data on an iOS device with other devices. In fact, most notetakers will not allow you to sync all types of data present on the notetaker, such as e-mails and mail accounts.
  2. Data sharing: Notetakers currently have not found a way to leverage cloud-based technologies. Best of luck to you if you try to log in and access files via Dropbox using a traditional notetaker's proprietary Web-browsing application, assuming you can actually get connected to the Internet.
  3. Printing: This process from an iOS device is fairly seamless when compared to that of printing from a notetaker.
  4. Compatibility: File compatibility issues between iOS and Microsoft Office are definitely not perfect, but I still give the advantage to iOS apps when compared to the hoops one must jump through to go between a proprietary word processing application and Microsoft Word. Regardless of what manufacturers of notetakers may say in their marketing materials, their legacy word processing applications are not "Microsoft Word for the Blind."

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, you will need to decide what works best for you when accomplishing the tasks you need to complete. For me, I'm willing to connect two devices wirelessly and operate in a similar mode as my sighted peers at a price point at least $3,500 lower than today's notetakers. It's a choice that I have made and a choice that not only works for me but works for the sighted individuals with whom I collaborate and share information.

This concludes our series "Removing the Stress from iOS." I hope that these four articles have been a stress free read for you and that you gleaned something from them, for I thoroughly enjoyed sharing with you my insights and opinions about a phenomenon that is not going away any time soon. Feel free to contact me through AccessWorld if I have not been clear about anything specific or if I can provide additional assistance to you in your access technology journey.

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Product Evaluations

Can the iPad and an App Replace Electronic Magnifiers (CCTVs)? An Evaluation of SightTech's EyeSight App

With the latest iPad release in March 2012 (simply dubbed "the new iPad"), Apple made significant upgrades to the previously released iPad 2. These enhancements to the new iPad provide app developers the opportunity to expand the capabilities of apps. Some of the more noteworthy improvements on the latest iPad include a more powerful processor, twice as much RAM (1 GB), a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera (previously only equipped with a 0.7-megapixel camera), and a high resolution Retina display. United States-based SightTech is one company that is taking advantage of the iPad's improved capabilities with its EyeSight app.

What is the EyeSight App?

If you break down an electronic video magnifier (CCTV) into its fundamental components, it consists of a camera, a screen that displays the image, and the ability to manipulate the image itself in a variety of ways. For all intents and purposes, the iPad already does this, but it just doesn't do it well. EyeSight, currently available for download from the App Store for $29.99, makes use of the new iPad's more powerful rear-facing camera, its increased processing speed, and enhanced image quality. The app's capabilities are intrinsic to the new iPad's architecture and design, and the iPad, therefore, needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating this app.

The Visual Display

The viewable display area of the iPad itself is 9.7 inches (diagonal measurement). This is a relatively small display compared to many of the commercially available electronic magnifiers on the market, which are typically fitted with a 20-inch display or larger. Using the iPad display, EyeSight allows an image to be magnified up to 12 times. The level of magnification can quickly and easily be adjusted using the pinch and reverse-pinch, gestures commonly used on iOS devices. EyeSight retains the last color scheme and level of magnification used when it is reloaded. This is a very handy feature and prevents you from having to readjust its settings every time you use it.

iOS 5 (the latest operating system for the iPad, iPhone, and iTouch) allows for video mirroring capability. This gives you the option of displaying the image on an external monitor or TV of any size that supports an HDMI or VGA connection. Depending on the size of monitor being used, this allows you to increase the viewable size significantly.

This video from SightTech gives a brief overview of the EyeSight app along with a short video demonstrating the app and iPad being used on an external monitor.

In order for the iPad and EyeSight app combination to more closely simulate the functionality of an electronic magnifier, additional hardware is needed to suspend the iPad above the surface of the viewable area. These parts are available through RAM Mounts, a company that specializes in various mounts and supports for Apple products. The three components required are a suction base mount, a double socket arm, and the cradle that secures the iPad. The combined cost of these three components is less than $90, not including tax. EyeSight is hoping to streamline the hardware and software solutions into one location so that you, the consumer, will not need to scour the Internet searching for the necessary components. As it stands now, the fragmented process of having to track down the necessary parts can be confusing and time consuming.

When the iPad is configured with the above-mentioned hardware, the camera will be positioned at the bottom-right corner of the iPad. This may take some time to get used to since most electronic video magnifiers have the camera positioned more in the center.

Documentation

EyeSight contains a User Guide with the app. It may be a little confusing for some people to access since the control to access it is a small icon located in the far corner of the display. The icon itself is a small image representing SightTech's company logo. Because the icon is tucked in the corner of the display, the icon disappears from view when Zoom, the built-in magnification program, is first enabled on the iPad. This may prove to be problematic for the population that this product has been designed for since a person with low vision may have difficulty seeing this icon without the use of Zoom. Replacing this small icon with a larger question mark or the letter "i" (often used with apps) may help to avoid confusion for some people. The User Guide itself is not accessible with VoiceOver, Apple's built-in screen reader. The font size of the instructions is approximately 14 point. Increasing the font size to 22 would make the instructions much more readily accessible for people with low vision.

Lighting and Glare

The iPad is not equipped with its own light source. The correct type and amount of light is important for providing the necessary contrast and illumination needed to maximize the quality of the image or text being viewed. Considering that the iPad will be resting approximately four inches from the surface of the viewable area, overhead light sources have the potential of casting shadows and/or reducing the level of illumination of the viewable area. A task lamp may be used to provide extra illumination, but this reduces the convenience and portability of the iPad and EyeSight app combination. The iPad's screen has a glossy finish that could also present glare issues for some people. An anti-glare screen protector may be purchased from a number of retail sources, including Amazon, for approximately $15.00.

Color Schemes and Image Quality

The EyeSight app provides six color schemes: normal, enhanced positive, enhanced negative, yellow on blue, yellow on black, and blue on white. Within iOS itself, you also have the option of changing the level of brightness. Providing an adjustment for modifying the brightness level within the app itself would add to its ease of use.

EyeSight also has the capability of capturing a screenshot, which is then saved as a photo. The app works best when the iPad camera is elevated about four inches from the reading surface. In a stationary position, this iPad /app combination does a reasonably good job at displaying the image. However, when panning material from side to side and up and down, there is a substantial amount of blurring (also known as ghosting). SightTech states that it's working to reduce the amount of ghosting for a future update of the app by digitally enhancing the image via the new iPad's more powerful processing and video buffering capabilities. The single-finger, single tap function cycles you through the color schemes available, but this gesture may be a little annoying for some users. It is very easy to inadvertently tap the iPad screen while using it, which means you need to cycle through all of the available color schemes to get back to the one you were originally using.

The Bottom Line

People retrofitting cameras and stands in an attempt to replicate the experience of a traditional electronic magnifier is nothing new. What is relatively new is the proliferation of Apple products on the market with powerful cameras and processing power that now make a retrofit much easier than in the past. The latest iPad starts out at $499, EyeSight is priced at $29.99, and the additional hardware needed costs approximately $90. For many people, one of the strongest motivators for using the iPad as an electronic video magnifier is the cost savings. High quality video magnifiers can still cost upwards of $2,000 to $3,000. If you already have a new iPad and are in need of magnification primarily for spot reading purposes (i.e., reading prescriptions, ingredients, or recipes), the investment in the EyeSight app and additional hardware components may be worth considering.

The amount of blurring that takes place with the iPad and EyeSight when panning printed material does not lend itself to any extensive amount of reading. An XY table would also be a necessary purchase in order to use the iPad to read for extended periods of time. Because the iPad does not have its own light source, it may also be necessary to invest in a task lamp to provide additional illumination depending on the lighting conditions in the room.

The EyeSight app and the additional hardware needed to turn the new iPad into an electronic magnifier may be a feasible solution for some people. This was not even available a couple of years ago. With the improved image quality and processing speed of the current iPad, we are sure to see other apps that will be pushing the envelope for what's possible for people with vision loss.

Product Information

Product: EyeSight App
Price: $29.99

Available From:
SightTech
235 Peachtree Street NE
Suite 400
Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: (855) 997-4448
E-mail: apple@sighttech.us

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Product Evaluations

Product Evaluation: Victor Reader Stratus 12 M DAISY MP3 Player from HumanWare

The Victor Stratus is a tabletop DAISY player from HumanWare. It accomplishes many of the same tasks as the smaller and popular Victor Reader Stream and does a few things that the Stream does not. This review will examine features and drawbacks of the Stratus and, hopefully, help determine which customers will find it an attractive addition to their pool of technology and which might be more likely to find it redundant.

Description

The footprint of the Victor Stratus is similar to many other tabletop players, such as the National Library Service (NLS) digital-talking book player issued to all library patrons in the US and other Victor models available from HumanWare. It measures approximately 8.5 inches by 8.5 inches and weighs about two pounds.

On the top face of the unit (from top to bottom) are three columns of two keys each for adjusting tone, volume, and speed followed by a 12-key telephone-style keypad. Next, there are Go To, Bookmark, and Eject keys near the left edge, a Power button near the right edge, and, then, a fairly common four-key configuration at the bottom. These four keys are arranged with three on the bottom (Rewind, Play/Stop, and Fast Forward from left to right) and a centered key above them that functions both as a Time Announcement key and a Sleep key.

The AC power connection is on the back of the Stratus. On the right-hand edge, from back to front, are: a secure digital (SD) card slot, a USB slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the front edge of the machine is a CD slot.

The built-in speaker is a two-inch diameter circle in the upper left corner of the Stratus; it delivers very nice, clear sound. Although it was not included with the model I tested, HumanWare can provide a cover that blocks all of the centrally located navigation keys, but leaves the controls for ejecting CDs, playing content, and controlling tone, speed, and volume accessible. This might be useful when using the unit with small children or anyone with cognitive challenges.

The battery is user-replaceable and reportedly operates for ten hours when fully charged.

What the Stratus Can Play

The Victor Stratus can play a fairly impressive array of file types. It can play your DAISY-formatted books, including those from Bookshare, Learning Ally, and the NLS. It can play your music collection, podcasts, and any MP3, WAV, or other audio files you throw at it.

In addition to playing both text and audio of DAISY books (when both features are made available), the Stratus can play a host of other text formats as well, including TXT, RTF, BRF, HTML, DOC, and DOCX. The familiar voices of Heather and Ryan make listening to text quite a pleasant experience. No matter the file type, you can also adjust the speed, volume, and tone to suit your own preferences.

While You're Listening

Like the popular Victor Reader Stream, the Victor Stratus gives you a multitude of options for managing content as you listen. You can set bookmarks (up to 99,998 of them) and navigate by level, page, sentence, word, character, etc., depending upon the mark-up available in a particular book. You can navigate to a specific heading, such as a chapter or section heading, as well as a specific page (again, if page indications are available in a given book). In text files, you can use the telephone-style keypad for text input to locate a specific word or phrase. You can jump forward and back by increments of time (1, 5, 10, or 30 minutes) or by percentages of the entire file. Navigation, in other words, is extremely flexible, intuitive, and quick.

Consider the Source

Probably the most appealing feature of the Victor Stratus is its ability to use a variety of media sources. While the Stratus has no internal memory for storing your files, it can have a ton of material on-board at any given time. You can, for example, insert an SD card loaded with talking books, text files, podcasts, and music along with a USB drive containing a similarly vast amount of content, while also popping in a CD of your favorite banjo player or DAISY-formatted textbook. By using the bookshelf function ("1" on the keypad), you can easily move among these sources of content, going from one to another and then navigating the folders or tracks contained therein.

Extra Features

A key describer mode is available to tell you the function of every key, and the user guide, which also comes on a CD with your unit, is always available internally. This guide has four levels of navigation as well as being navigable by word, line, sentence, or page (or by searching for a particular word or phrase) so that locating specific references is convenient and quick.

Above the Play/Stop key is the Sleep key. When first pressed, this key results in an announcement of the time and date. Second and subsequent presses are for the Sleep Timer and thus allow the user to set the machine to play for 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes before automatically powering off. (By using the numbers on the keypad, you can also customize the Sleep Timer to play for a specific amount of time before shutting down.)

When playing a CD, the Speed control is still available to you, making it possible to speed up text or audio generated by a CD in the same way that you would with other digital material. Because the required folder structure is similar to that of the Victor Reader Stream, SD cards formatted for that device can easily be accessed with the Victor Stratus as well.

Drawbacks

The Victor Stratus does not have an on-board recorder. Although it will play material first played on the Victor Reader Stream, it will not play notes recorded on that device and stored in the Notes folder. A further disappointment was that, even though the Stratus has a Copy CD feature, it only works when copying DAISY-formatted CDs. For that reason, the copy feature was not tested for this review.

When powering on, the familiar "Victor" voice welcomes the user, but the delay between the beep confirming that Power has been pressed and the subsequent "Welcome to Victor Stratus" message seems rather long. The particular unit tested would not accept a battery charge after the first few charging cycles. (After repeated attempts to charge the battery failed, removing the user-replaceable battery from its compartment for 15 seconds and replacing it ultimately resolved this problem.)

Conclusions

The Victor Stratus is a sturdy and compact unit capable of playing a wide variety of text and audio content. Its built-in speaker is excellent, so listening without headphones is pleasant and comfortable. It delivers clear, crisp sound and has the added advantage of playing both commercial and DAISY-formatted CDs. The presence of both an SD and USB port renders it an excellent choice for playing content from a variety of sources.

For a person who would prefer having just one device for playing music, books, and text files, it could be a great choice. If recording and portability are high priorities, however, the Victor Stratus would best play the role of supporting actor in your technology toolbox.

Product Information

Product: Victor Reader Stratus 12M DAISY MP3 Player
Price: $455
Available from:
HumanWare
800-722-3393

Manufacturer's Comments

HumanWare would like to thank AccessWorld for this thorough review of the Victor Reader Stratus. As the author highlights, the simplicity of the Stratus's hardware interface, high quality speaker, and ability to interface with a multitude of storage media, including the SD cards from the Victor Reader Stream, allows it to be a device that can be immediately used and enjoyed by users of all technological backgrounds.

Greg Stilson, HumanWare Technical Product Manager of Braille Products

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Service Organizations

Building Competence and Confidence: A Summer Program for Middle and High School Students at Baruch College

In 1977, Baruch College of The City University of New York had the University's only Educational Computer Center. Dr. Dina Bedi, the Director of the Center, and Dr. Sam Ryan, both professors in the Department of Statistics, began to consider the idea of how computing was becoming a universal need for all college students, and it might, therefore, play an even more significant role in the lives of students whose ability to manage printed information was compromised due to vision loss.

With help from Leslie Clark (then a researcher at the American Foundation for the Blind) and grad student Herb Klitzner, Bedi and Ryan found funds to purchase one braille computer terminal and one electronic magnifier (CCTV) and, then, offered an accessible course in FORTRAN programming. The Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP) had its official launch seven months later in March of 1978. Each summer since then, CCVIP has been inviting students to its campus to get a taste of computing and a dose of New York City life.

For its first five years, CCVIP continued to teach programming, but in the early 1980s, as personal computers emerged, the Center changed its mission to embrace all users, concluding that competence with accessible computers was a basic literacy tool. Since 1983, the CCVIP mission has been to increase the freedom, independence, and productivity of people who are blind or visually impaired through the power of digital technology. Curricula changed to include software associated with the use of computers by many individuals rather than the programming of computers by a few.

In the current learning path, new students to the CCVIP begin by participating in an assessment seminar, which is a group lesson allowing instructors to gauge students' existing computer skills and capabilities. All students who successfully complete that seminar then move to a four session class called Understanding Windows Concepts, which provides a foundation for various Windows conventions with specific instruction in the Microsoft Office suite and the Internet.

While the CCVIP is on a college campus, there are no strict age limitations for students. The following account is of one teacher's partnership with this training program to pair its technology emersion with goal-oriented mobility training, creating a fresh, progressive curriculum for his students.

David's Story

I heard AFB President and CEO, Carl Augusto, give the keynote address at an AER Conference around 17 years ago, and three points that he made in this speech have influenced my teaching tremendously. He stated that computers were the most powerful tools yet developed for use by people with visual impairments. He went on to say that teachers of visually impaired students tend to "reinvent the wheel" and that teachers need to make better use of the work of others in their field. Finally, he noted that people with visual impairments are among the most highly educated of groups with disabilities, yet are among the most under-employed.

Several years before Mr. Augusto's address, I witnessed one of the first screen reader demonstrations at an AER Conference in Baltimore. Within minutes of beginning their demonstration on this new technology, the program froze on the software developers, and they were unsuccessful in their attempts to restart it.

There were several important lessons to be learned from these two separate experiences: while I realized computers were immensely important to my students' future growth and success, I wasn't sure I had the knowledge to systematically and effectively teach all of the underlying concepts necessary for their use. I also felt it was important to challenge and push my students to develop more advanced Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills at a far earlier age than I had previously attempted. A solution to these two challenges, though, soon became evident.

Within a year or so of hearing Mr. Augusto, I became aware of CCVIP at Baruch College. In 1998, I made arrangements with CCVIP to enroll one of my students, an eleven year old with light perception only, into their summer Windows95/Microsoft Word class. I was this student's O&M instructor at the time. The student was a fluent typist, but her only computer experience had been with a DOS-based operating system. She had no previous exposure to a Windows-based environment.

For six weeks over that summer, we commuted twice a week into the city. The student lived approximately sixty miles from the city, which translated into just over seven hours travel time, round trip. This included transferring to and from train to subway and subway to subway, and street level travel to and from class. Class time was approximately three hours, so each trip took approximately ten hours to complete. I asked the student's local Lion's Club to provide the cost of the tuition. I also asked the student's school district to include 20 hours of summer O&M instruction on her Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and to reimburse the costs of train and subway travel.

More Than Computer Class

The benefits of combining an advanced O&M program with a meaningful and self-motivating technology-centered educational experience soon became apparent. The repetition of the biweekly trips over a six-week period of time allowed for a long and complicated route to be broken down into small, manageable pieces with many opportunities for practice and review. There were also many chances to experience the real life challenges that are faced by people with visual impairments who use mass transit: delayed or cancelled trains, over-crowded subways, and well-intentioned Samaritans who tried to direct cane placement onto the platform or attempted to assist the student on and off trains by use of physical means, to name just a few.

There was an unanticipated social benefit from this combination of programs. The other students in the class (ages ranging from early twenties to mid-forties) welcomed my student into their midst. They shared their experiences on everything, including using guide dogs, their differing preferences in technologies, various social and cultural events in the city for people with visual impairments, and how to deal with over-anxious parents.

Another benefit of the program was the opportunity to meet a large group of highly successful people with visual impairments. It wasn't until the second or third week of the program that my student realized that the class instructor was herself blind. The competency of this teacher and her position at the college as an instructor had a tremendous influence on my student and helped raise her expectations for what could be achieved through hard work.

Growing the Curriculum

Since 1998, I have enrolled five additional students at the college, and they have taken a total of eight courses through CCVIP. The children's ages were from 10 to 15 years old, and they were enrolled in programs according to their needs and abilities, including Word Level 1 and 2, Using the Internet, and Using PowerPoint. These students were all experienced users of text enlargement software, but to further enrich this experience, all used screen reading software in class.

By the third summer of city travel, the program developed with additional components to better prepare the student. Two separate eight-hour trips are incorporated into the program for the summer before a student is to attend CCVIP, the first of which includes train and subway travel and introduces the student to the Penn Station and Grand Central Station transportation hubs.

To prepare for city travel, the student attends regular O&M lessons in which the student transports to towns on Long Island that offer settings more closely related to city travel. Finding a teachable area on Long Island is a little like the story of Goldilocks: some towns are too small and don't provide sidewalks or a variety of intersection shapes and controls while some are too big with traffic that is too fast, crossings that are too wide, and no adequate controls in place to provide for safe pedestrian crossing opportunities. The three villages that are "just right" for the program are Bellport Village (small but with a variety of intersection shapes and controls), Sayville Village (medium sized), and Patchogue Village (large but with laws prohibiting right turns at red lights similar to those found in New York City).

The final new component is two additional trips added to each student's O&M program for the remaining summers of their school careers following the completion of their course work at CCVIP. These trips build upon sections of now established routes and include travel to transportation hubs, cultural centers, and food and entertainment sites. The O&M portion of the program has continued to evolve and change every year as new trip possibilities present themselves.

The growth of students as they progress through the summer is exciting, and the ever-changing dynamics of city travel are always challenging. Over the past thirteen years, students have experienced a wide variety of occurrences both typical and atypical of commuting and city travel. They have experienced the results of a lightning strike knocking out a signal tower, water over the third rail knocking out service, a "slow train ahead" for the entire 60-mile trip into the city, several delays due to medical emergencies, track fires cancelling service west of Jamaica Station, and, once, a reported sniper delaying a train for several hours.

The Program's Role

Programs such as those offered at CCVIP are now more essential than ever. As an itinerant teacher of students with visual impairments, I've noticed two emerging challenges that affect the ability of my students to compete in the area of technology with their sighted peers. The first is that there is a disparity between school districts in terms of their financial resources. Some more affluent districts are able to focus on computer readiness skills beginning in elementary school, but other districts without the same resources wait to develop these skills until the high school level. While I can introduce computer skills to my students at an early age, they aren't always able to reinforce these skills in their school settings.

The second challenge is that, as districts have placed more emphasis on teaching to standards due to emphasis on standardized tests, there is less time available to classroom teachers to take their students into the school's computer labs to introduce and teach new computer-related concepts. This is particularly true for students in lower grades. These two challenges further highlight the importance of making the most of the opportunity that summer offers by combining an O&M program with a specialized computer center such as CCVIP.

As students go on to college and adulthood, it's important that they know about local resources and have mastery of the O&M skills necessary to access these programs independently. With proper training, this generation of students may meet with greater success in the workplace than those who have gone before them. As the students who have gone through this combination of programs have graduated, they all seem to have two things in common: very strong technology and computer-related skills and an affinity for going to school or living in urban-type environments that offer mass transit and, thus, the possibility of autonomous travel.

What Students Said They Learned

CCVIP recently interviewed four of the six Long Island students who participated in the summer program. Because these students joined the CCVIP's already existing program, they were folded in with graduate students and working-age adults, and all of the students reported that they enjoyed being in a class of older individuals. All reported learning skills in both the use of their particular access technologies and the applications they studied. They each became fluent users of speech technology and showed no discernible resistance as can so often be the case with adults.

One student stated she enjoyed her classmates and that they were very friendly and generous to her in showing her such things as the recorders they used and sharing with her regarding many aspects of their lives as people with significant vision loss. She also enjoyed the smaller group and somewhat less formal atmosphere that existed in the CCVIP classroom and felt free to ask questions as they came up.

Some of the students continued with the program and moved from student to teacher in the process. One student became fluent enough with screen readers that he was able to act as a tutor at a computer camp later that summer. Another student with whom we spoke spent multiple summers at CCVIP studying the Internet, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Following her studies, she returned to tutor in the same summer program. In addition to the technical knowledge she gained, she said several times that the program gave her the confidence that allows her now to explore computers on her own.

One student reported that he had not realized that there was such a thing as a community of strong and independent-minded people who were blind or visually impaired. He said, "I live most of my life in the sighted world, but to have a connection with strong and independent blind people is really important. I don't think I would have developed the same without it." He continued to say about the experience, "I can acknowledge my visual impairment and my needs without needing to use it as a rationale for incompetency."

Conclusion

Teachers of students with visual impairments have reported that the vast majority of their time is spent supporting students in their academic subject work. In many cases where students are mainstreamed, chances to enjoy accelerated work in mobility and assistive technology may be rare. Similarly, chances to be in a community with other people who are blind or visually impaired are often limited.

The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), skill areas necessary for students who are blind or visually impaired to fully access and benefit from the standard K-12 curriculum, includes compensatory or access skills, career education skills, independent living skills, O&M skills and concepts, recreational and leisure skills, self-determination skills, social interaction skills, use of access technology, and sensory efficiency skills. CCVIP has seen the values of the ECC come to life in participating students of this program. Summer seems an ideal time in which to create partnerships between teachers, school programs, and specialized programs that may offer students the chance to grow and gain confidence in themselves as learners, as travelers, and as independent young adults.

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Commentary

Watching TV Blind: A Love-Hate Relationship

I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with television. And, for 20 years now, video description has hung like a shadow over this relationship.

I grew up on the great classic comedies of the 1970s: All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and M.A.S.H. I spent far too many summer vacation hours lazily watching programs from Love Boat to gameshows. I later adopted sitcoms like Cheers and The Cosby Show along with a sprinkling of a few medical and legal dramas. In other words, I was a pretty typical American TV watcher.

Yet there was always a disappointing aspect to TV programs (okay, there are many in fact, but that's another story). There was always the question: What's going on? And too often, there wasn't anyone willing or able to answer it for me. After all, as a blind person, I missed the visual information these programs presented: telltale facial expressions, audience laughter not triggered by dialogue, the silent entrance of a new character, and, of course, the complete shift of setting. These, and many other aspects about television, are confounding to people who can't see the screen (or who can't see it very well).

As a consequence, I have what may be unhealthy love for the work of Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter whose shows, from Sports Night, to West Wing, to Studio 60, were heavily dialogue-driven. These days, I find very little TV that I want to watch, and I'm mostly snarling at my teenage and young-adult daughters about their TV viewing choices (typical parent, I guess).

Meanwhile, in the 1990s, WGBH brought us its Descriptive Video Service (DVS), which brought movies and some public television shows to life. For me and, as importantly, my sighted family, DVS was a blessing, providing much more information about movies and shows, thereby relieving my family of the pressure to provide haphazard description.

Also during the early 90s, closed captioning was beginning to take off, providing access for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. Disability advocates (yours truly among them) began pushing for a law to require TV programs to be captioned and described. In 1996, Communications Act amendments were passed, bringing us Section 255, which required telecommunications access, but also Section 713, which required captioning of TV programs. Advocates tried hard at that time to get description required as well, but representatives of the television industry strenuously objected to description. Apparently captioning would be accepted as a requirement, but description would not.

Nonetheless, the 1996 Act did require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study description, and in 2000 the agency announced that it would require the broadcast networks as well as the largest non-broadcast networks (generally this means cable networks) to provide 50 hours per quarter of programming with video description. The FCC believed it had the authority to require what amounts to a "pilot" effort of this sort. So, in April 2002, the requirement went into effect, and several networks started airing programs with description. However, the TV industry asked the courts to overturn the FCC requirement. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed and tossed out the requirement.

Since that time, AFB and other advocates have worked to "reinstate" those minimal requirements, and we were finally successful in the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. That is how we ended up with this small but important step being taken now (as of July 2012) by the broadcast and top non-broadcast TV networks to provide approximately four hours per week (50 hours per calendar quarter) of programs with video description.

So now what?

The two big, immediate challenges for television viewers with vision loss are to figure out which programs have description and how to set their TVs to receive it. For information about programs, the best source right now is the FCC's video description page, which includes many resources and lists of programs that networks have indicated they are planning to provide with description. As for how to set the TV to get the description track, here's the information we've compiled. As we learn more, we'll fill in details.

If the programs you want aren't described, let the networks know you'd like them to be described. If you aren't able to receive the description track, contact your TV provider or broadcast station.

Personally, I'm curious about ABC's Modern Family and NBC's The Office, which are now supposed to be described. In fact, I used to watch The Office but got tired of trying to follow the constant scene changes and weird switching between monologues and dialogue.

I'm definitely not the best person to tell you to watch more TV, but I suspect many of you, like most Americans, already watch a decent amount. I hope you will take a look at some of the programs that are to be described, and I hope you will let the networks know that you'd like to see more described programming. That's something we can all tune into.

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Accessibility at Popular Vacation Destinations

Accessibility in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and the Busch Gardens Amusement Park

If you like American history or amusement park rides, a fun place to visit is the Williamsburg area of Virginia. It's located approximately 150 miles south of Washington, DC. The area is home to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Center, and Busch Gardens. Each of these places has lots of activities, and many are hands-on. Recently, I went with my husband, 16 year-old daughter, and my guide dog, Jack. Everywhere on the trip, people were friendly, and there was absolutely no problem with guide dog access. As usual, many people admired my dog and asked questions about him and guide dog training in general.

Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg was the first colonial capital of Virginia. Some buildings have been restored, some have been rebuilt on original foundations, and some have been recreated as close as possible to original plans. There are many scheduled performances where actors recreate historical events, and there are many opportunities to visit with craftsmen, including dressmakers, silversmiths, and bookbinders. There are additional special events during the evening, which are not included with the price of admission.

Accommodations for People with Visual Impairments

The Colonial Williamsburg guide is available in braille at the Visitor's Center. The last person to use it, prior to me, did so in 2005. The book was not written specifically for braille readers since it told the reader to look for printed signs. Colonial Williamsburg offers a 50-percent discount on admission tickets for people who are blind. However, if you plan to visit other area attractions, there are better admission packages available.

Colonial Williamsburg offers a free orientation walk for people with visual impairments, though arrangements must be made at least two weeks in advance.

Things to Do

It's possible to do a quick overview in less than a day, but depending on your level of interest in early American history, there is so much to do that several days can be worthwhile. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes since you probably will be walking a lot. From 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., there are free shuttle buses with frequent stops around Colonial Williamsburg. You can get on or off at any stop.

In most places, there are actors dressed in colonial costumes who are very willing to answer questions. Other actors are dressed as specific historical characters and will not answer general questions. For example, our guide at the Governor's Palace would only answer questions about the governor's family and the palace.

Tours are available for many of the buildings, but most original artifacts cannot be touched. A guard was not happy when my husband put my hand on an original musket, but I'm not sure if he saw my guide dog.

At the courthouse, a guide gives a description of how trials were conducted and where the various court personnel sat or stood. The rule is that people are not supposed to walk around and touch furniture, but an exception was made for me. Once others saw me touching things, they too went to do some hands-on exploration.

The reenactments are well done with lots of talking. There is an excellent story called "The Challenge of Independence, 1776–1781," which begins with a woman trying to convince her husband not to join the colonial army and ends with the victory over the British. There are many scenes with each one at a different location, so the audience must walk short distances for each scene. Other vignettes in the reenactment include a slave deciding to join the army and Benedict Arnold trying to convince the colonists to end the revolution and join the British. The finale of the reenactment includes a parade complete with musket and cannon fire. If you have a guide dog that gets startled by loud noises, you might want to skip that part.

There are men and women in costume demonstrating various occupations using the same tools that were used in the 18th century. They were very happy to let me touch the tools and whatever items were being made. At the dressmaker's shop, I felt the textures of various parts of a Colonial woman's attire, including the dress, separate ruffled sleeves, and handkerchief. At the silversmith's shop, I felt objects such as spoons, plates, and a large ladle. I also got to handle pieces in various stages of completion. I was handed several tools, and the silversmith explained the purpose for each. The two men demonstrating book binding seemed to particularly enjoy explaining their craft, giving me different types of book covers to feel and showing me how the books were trimmed and bound together. Some artisans spontaneously gave me materials to feel while I had to ask others.

Evening Activities

Evening activities, such as concerts and special tours, are not included in the admission price. During my stay, I attended three different events. The "Cry Witch" trial is excellent. Actors do a mock trial of a woman accused of witchcraft. There is some audience participation, including deciding if the woman is guilty. Although I could not see the actors, it was easy to follow the plot due to the speaking parts. When we left the trial, the actors were standing outside to chat and answer questions.

The concert "Uncivil Harmony: Music of the Civil War" is an excellent performance. Though not a colonial theme, this is very appropriate as it's the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2011–2015), and there were major battles nearby, making the town and its citizens very involved. An excellent musician gives a timeline of the war and describes each year with in-character musicians playing and singing. He gives historic information about each song. After the performance, the musicians welcome people to come up and ask questions.

A very popular evening activity at Colonial Williamsburg is a tour called "Ghosts Amongst Us." My husband, daughter, and I all agreed that this tour is disappointing. The ghosts are not related to American history, and one ghost's speech is impossible to understand. We couldn't figure out why the tour is so popular.

There are, of course, shops to visit and places to eat at the Colonial Williamsburg site. In Merchant's Square (which isn't in the actual historic area), there are many mainstream stores and a variety of restaurants. Within the historic area, there are several period taverns and period stores. Reservations are required for dinner at the taverns but not for lunch. I can highly recommend Shield's Tavern. Lunch was so good that we returned for dinner the following evening. The maître d' told the person seating us to remove the extra chair at the table, so the dog would have room. In the tavern's basement, you can feel the original foundation and fireplace bricks. Our waitress explained they were not uniform in size and shape.

Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement is a recreation of the 17th-century colony of the original settlers from England. It's significantly smaller than Colonial Williamsburg but still worth a visit. It's possible to visit Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center on the same day. Although no specific discount is given for people with visual impairments, there is a combination ticket that covers both sites. There are no specific accommodations for people with visual impairments.

Things to Do

At Jamestown Settlement, disappointingly, there is an exhibition gallery which prohibits touching. The outside demonstrations are more interesting. Visitors can go inside several tepees and handle items, including animal skins, utensils, and baskets.

Costumed staff explains the history of the settlement and welcomes questions. On the day we were there, a man was making a dugout canoe from a tree. He explained the technique, and I was able to touch the wood. Another man was demonstrating how bread was baked. He let me touch various tools and the door of the clay oven. Demonstrations and explanations are given throughout the day.

Jamestown Settlement is at the James River, and several full-size ships are open for visits. These recreate the original 17th-century English vessels that settlers used to come to America. You can board and explore the ships, but going below deck requires going down a steep ladder. Everything aboard can be touched, including furniture and personal gear.

As at Colonial Williamsburg, there is a demonstration of cannon fire. The staff explains how cannons are loaded and directs volunteers in the audience in a mock firing, which is followed by staff actors doing actual firing (sans cannonball).

Yorktown Victory Center, a Museum of the American Revolution

The Yorktown Victory Center is a short drive from Jamestown Settlement.

Things to Do

There is an exhibition gallery, but the only touchable items are some musket balls and swords used by the American, English, and French armies.

Outside is the Continental Army encampment. As with Jamestown, everything is hands-on. There are replicas of tents where soldiers lived with touchable items inside of them. Costumed interpreters speak about everyday life for the soldiers.

Events and lectures take place throughout the day. There is a very interesting lecture about medical care for the soldiers. Many replicas of medical equipment are on display and available to touch. The lecturer is pleased to answer questions from the audience. There is, again, loud cannon fire with interpreters answering questions and explaining how the cannon is loaded and fired.

Another part of the Yorktown Victory Center is the 1780s farm with a tobacco barn, a kitchen, crops, and more. Interpreters speak about life on a farm as well as about rural life after the revolution. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to spend time at the farm, but from all the documentation I reviewed, there are some hands-on activities.

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens is a large amusement park consisting of rides, animals, shows, shops, and places to eat.

Accommodations for People with Visual Impairments

Busch Gardens works hard to accommodate guests with all kinds of disabilities and has a uniform assessment process.

On your first day visiting Busch Gardens, go to Guest Services. A staff member will ask you questions about your visual impairment and might ask that you squeeze his/her hand to insure your grip is strong enough for rides. Although the questions might seem irrelevant, this is part of their standard assessment process.

After the assessment, your information will be put into the computer, and you will be issued a special wrist band, which allows you and up to three companions to avoid lines for the rides. You will be given a sheet to carry indicating which rides you can use. There are rides for people of all ages. If you come back another day without the wristband, Guest Services can retrieve your information from the computer, and you will receive a new wrist band.

There is a well-maintained service dog relief area fairly close to the park entrance.

Going on Rides

Bush Gardens has a wide variety of rides from the very calm Bush Gardens Railroad to exciting rollercoasters. If you have a guide dog and someone in your party can watch the dog while you're on a ride, make sure to inform Guest Services of this fact. Initially, when I registered with Guest Services, the agent assumed that the dog would be accompanying me on all the rides. When I wanted to go on a rollercoaster, the operator would not let me because the ride was not on the sheet. The operator was very polite and arranged for me to get a new sheet. This one had no limitations because it did not indicate that I'd be taking my dog with me. There are only a few basic rides where service dogs are permitted. Once you come off the ride, the person watching your dog can board without waiting in line.

Animals

Busch Gardens is known for its very large Clydesdale horses. Not too far from the entrance are stables with a horse petting area. The horses are very calm.

Jack Hanna's Wild Reserve includes an aviary, a bald eagle exhibit, and a wolf enclosure. Several special animal encounter tours are offered at an additional fee.

Since I love animals, my husband, daughter, and I signed up for the "Ultimate Animal Insider Tour" at $54 per person. Service dogs cannot go on the tour. The on-site kennel is clean, and the staff is very friendly. They did not charge me for boarding.

We thought this would be one continuous tour, but it is actually three separate tours sold as one package. As a result, we wasted almost two hours total waiting in between tours. The first tour starts with learning about and petting the Clydesdales and border collies. Then, there was a half hour break. At the wolf enclosure, we were shown how they are trained. We knew in advance that we wouldn't be allowed near them since it can take months for them to accept strangers. Everyone does get a chance to give a wolf a training command and throw the wolf a piece of food once the command is executed. After another break, we went to touch some other animals, including an alligator, a screech owl, a hedgehog, and an opossum.

I'd recommend taking just the regular Animal Insider tour, which was the part of our tour where animals can be touched. You can pet a Clydesdale without taking an entire tour.

Contact Information

Colonial Williamsburg Call Center (Information about historic attractions, lodging, tickets):

800-HISTORY or 800-447-8679

Colonial Williamsburg
Direct: 757-220-7645
Toll Free: 800-246-2099

Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center
Direct: 757-253-4838
Toll Free: 888-593-4682

Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Direct: 757-253-3350
Toll Free: 800-343-7946

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Support the Anne Sullivan Macy Act and Revolutionize America's Special Education System for Students with Vision Loss

Since its enactment more than 35 years ago, Public Law 94-142, now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has transformed educational opportunity for all children and youth with disabilities. However, the law does not adequately hold public agencies accountable for vital services and instruction, such as braille, orientation and mobility, the provision of low vision devices, and a host of other essential services and instruction needed by students with vision loss to truly receive a free and appropriate public education worthy of their tremendous potential.

The Anne Sullivan Macy Act, comprehensive draft legislation endorsed by the American Council of the Blind (ACB), American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), Council of Schools for the Blind (COSB), Perkins School for the Blind, and VisionServe Alliance, would revolutionize America's special education system for all students with vision loss, including students who may also have additional, potentially even more significant, disabilities.

Everyone who cares about the scope and quality of special education for students with vision loss is invited to join in the national effort to work for the legislation's prompt enactment and/or incorporation into IDEA. While the process for congressional review and reauthorization of IDEA promises to be a long one, advocates should begin now to educate federal policy makers about the critical need for the array of improvements that the Anne Sullivan Macy Act embodies.

You can find the full text of the draft legislation and a petition to sign at the AFB website.

An array of supporting explanatory materials can also be found at a joint AFB and Perkins School website.

If your school, association, agency, parent network, service organization, or other group can join the growing roster of organizations endorsing the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, we'd love to hear from you! Send an e-mail confirming such endorsement to Mark Richert, Director, Public Policy, AFB.

Named for Helen Keller's beloved teacher, the Anne Sullivan Macy Act would strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and improve results for the more than 100,000 children and youth with vision loss, including those who also have additional disabilities. Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • Ensure that every student with vision loss is properly identified regardless of formal disability category or classification so that all students with vision loss, including those with additional disabilities, are counted and properly served.
  • Expand knowledge about the scope and quality of special education and related services provided to students with vision loss through refined data collection that tracks all students with vision loss, regardless of formal disability category or classification.
  • Expect states to conduct strategic planning (and commit such planning to writing) to guarantee that all students with vision loss within each state receive all specialized instruction and services needed, which are to be provided by properly trained personnel.
  • Clarify that proper evaluation of students with vision loss includes evaluation for students' needs for instruction in communication and productivity (including braille instruction and assistive technology proficiency inclusive of low vision devices where appropriate); self-sufficiency and interaction (including orientation and mobility, self-determination, sensory efficiency, socialization, recreation and fitness, and independent living skills); and age appropriate career education. Such instruction and services constitute the Expanded Core Curriculum, the body of services which teachers of students with visual impairments and related professionals are expertly trained to provide.
  • Ramp up US Department of Education responsibilities to monitor and report on states' compliance with their obligations with respect to instruction and services specifically provided to students with vision loss.
  • Assist parents and educators of students with vision loss through regular and up-to-date written policy guidance from the US Department of Education.
  • Establish a national collaborative organizational resource, the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Vision Loss and Educational Excellence, to proliferate evidence-based practices in the education of students with vision loss, to keep special educators current with the latest instructional methods, and to supplement state and local educational agency provision of the instruction and services constituting the Expanded Core Curriculum.

For further information, e-mail Mark Richert, Esq., Director, Public Policy, AFB, or call 202-469-6833.

New HumanWare iPhone App Will Get Deaf-Blind and Sighted People Talking

HumanWare, in partnership with Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille (INLB), has unveiled the HumanWare Communicator, the first multilingual face-to-face conversation app for deaf-blind people. This app will help deaf-blind individuals communicate on an everyday basis by connecting a HumanWare braille tool (BrailleNote Apex or Brailliant) with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

Now a deaf-blind person can use Bluetooth connectivity to pair their HumanWare braille device to an iPhone, iPod, or iPad. In the absence of an interpreter, the HumanWare Communicator app then facilitates a conversation. The deaf-blind person converses through the braille device and hands his or her tethered Apple device to the sighted person who uses the touch screen keyboard to respond. The face-to-face conversation appears in real time on both the refreshable braille display and the iOS devices' screen.

HumanWare introduced the DeafBlind Communicator (DBC), the first portable face-to-face chat solution, in 2008. For the first time, a deaf-blind person had portability and independence when having a face-to-face conversation. The system combines the simplicity and portability of the popular BrailleNote with a companion visual interface running on a cell phone, and since a familiar cell phone keyboard is used, the sighted individual has a very small learning curve to engage in a conversation.

"With the popularity and inclusion of access technology features in Apple's iOS devices, HumanWare has received a high demand to bring the face-to-face concept of the popular DeafBlind Communicator to the popular Apple devices. The HumanWare Communicator app breaks everyday face-to-face communication down to its simplest form and will get everyone talking," says Greg Stilson, HumanWare product manager.

The HumanWare Communicator app will be available for standard download from Apple's app store in late July 2012.

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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

Thanks again to you and your team for featuring Transformer USB/VGA in the July edition of AccessWorld. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you in the future when we release new products to the marketplace.

Enhanced Vision is always striving to make the best product possible. We are currently looking at upgrading many of our devices, including the Transformer, and your input is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

James Bailey, Director, Eastern US Sales
Enhanced Vision

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

When I first got my iPhone, I had a very difficult time learning to navigate using the touchscreen, and I sent it back. Finally, my desire to be on Facebook along with my family and friends made me give it a second chance. AccessWorld's series by Larry Lewis, "Taking the Stress Out of iOS," has been awesome.

Thank you,

Lina

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

What struck me about Dr. Jaclyn Packer and Morgan Blubaugh's article, "All for One and One for All: The Use of 'All-in-One' Multifunctional Document Centers by People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision," was the high level of unemployment for people who are low vision or blind. This 70 percent level has been the same for 20 years or more!

Did this nation ever reduce the number of unemployed?

I am concerned. The nation is experiencing an ongoing constriction of economic factors that will make employment more and more difficult over the next four to six years. Employment candidates who are blind and visually impaired will need to compete against fully sighted candidates. A high school diploma is not considered a tool for employment. A four-year degree is an essential tool, but a master's degree is a basis to land a job. Over the past eight years, millions of jobs have gone and will not return. Employment for many candidates will need to sprout from, well, almost thin air.

A newspaper story regarding Spain appeared about three months ago. Spain and the Spanish people demonstrate a type of economic constriction that our nation should prepare for. Will this type of economy remove the blind and visually impaired from any consideration for employment?

AccessWorld's all-in-one copier article is a well-intentioned advisory notice, but I think there is something happening in our nation that will shrink us and change the rules for all Americans.

Sincerely,

Clifford

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

I would like to congratulate AFB for developing AccessNote. I look forward to giving it a spin. Whether one is contemplating using this app with either the Apple Wireless Keyboard or a wireless braille device, what is important to admit is that the utility of the iOS device is once again changing yet proceeding ahead in a way we probably haven't thought about.

I need a smartphone to get by nowadays, and with a tool such as AccessNote, I will have yet another way to interface with the world through my iOS device. Today iOS, tomorrow Droid?

We all win!

Sincerely,

R.P.

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

I am blind, and I am writing in response to Deborah Kendrick's June 2012 article, "When Tech Support Isn't Supportive."

I have had numerous, less than satisfying experiences with mainstream tech support. On more than one occasion, tech support representatives have asked me to call back when a sighted person was available to help me! One such experience occurred when my husband, who is also blind and has a Spanish accent, tried to communicate with a tech from India who kept saying in disbelief, "You are blind, and you have a computer?" Then, he told my husband that he couldn't understand his English at which point my husband asked to speak to a supervisor, and the tech hung up.

My husband and I have had good assistance from the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) association as they apparently have a few blind tech support employees, and that makes a big difference.

I have also had problems with tech support in my employment as a medical transcriptionist. One tech support representative even told me that I should just use the computer the way we typed in the old days before computers! I asked him how I would spell check and make corrections, and of course, he had no answers.

I retired after 40 years because of the frequent program changes made by my employers. These programs were frequently proprietary and often were not designed with keyboard commands or graphics labels. I would have preferred to work a few more years, but the situation became impossible to cope with, especially when voice recognition came along. It all became too much with so many errors that needed to be corrected, listening to difficult accents, listening to JAWS, detecting and correcting errors, trying to make production, and being paid only half the salary received for straight typing. I believe that the medical transcription field is becoming just about impossible for those of us who are visually impaired, even with the use of a braille display. This is unfortunate as it was a good career for many of us. The issue of changing software programs may cause many others to lose their jobs, which is the last thing we need with our high levels of unemployment.

Access technology does its best, but it is being overwhelmed by so many versions of programs and software.

The issue of poor tech support has touched a nerve for so many of us, and I am happy to see it discussed in AccessWorld.

Sincerely,

Carol

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