In This Issue
AccessWorld Recognizes Disability Employment Awareness Month
2012 Employment Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Joe Strechay
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is kicking off with some uplifting information about employment for people with disabilities.
The Media's Impact on Public Perception of People with Disabilities
by Joe Strechay
More than ever before, people with disabilities have become more valued and included members of society, due, in part, to the media's portrayals of people with disabilities, including those with vision loss.
Cell Phone Accessibility
An Evaluation of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Using the Nexus 7
by J.J. Meddaugh
While not perfect, Android 4.1 has taken some major strides toward a complete accessibility solution, but some additional customizations or third-party apps may be necessary for the optimal experience.
ZoomText Reinventing Itself: A Review of ZoomText 10 and Its New Features
by John Rempel
ZoomText 10 has moved far beyond what its previous versions have offered. A concerted effort has been made to make this product and its features user friendly.
What's on this Page: A Review of the SayText, Prizmo, and TextDetective iOS Reading Apps
by Janet Ingber
Users of iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, etc.) now have several choices for OCR apps.
Section 508 Update
Fahrenheit 508: Why Current Federal Tech Access Policy is in Ashes
by Mark Richert, Esq.
AFB's Public Policy Director reviews a recent Justice Department report assessing implementation of Section 508, critiques its stark findings, and recommends next steps.
Accessible Television for the Visually Impaired: Is It Only for the United Kingdom?
by Deborah Kendrick
Television access in the US has a ways to go to catch up with the UK.
The AFB Optics Lab
The AFB Small Visual Display Project: Contrast Sensitivity
by William Reuschel and Kristin Reuschel
Contrast sensitivity, or the level of contrast required for a person to perceive a change in an image, is an issue that affects everyone with any vision.
Letters to the Editor
AccessNote App Release Postponed
AccessWorld Recognizes Disability Employment Awareness Month
Dear AccessWorld readers,
October is Disability Employment Awareness Month and we at AccessWorld have taken this opportunity to focus on employment with articles that provide strategies, insider perspectives, and information about employment resources.
October is a time to celebrate the skills and accomplishments of American workers with disabilities. Further, it's a time to illuminate and discuss the employment barriers that still exist and, with renewed vigor, pursue their removal.
The effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment began in 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
In observance of this month-long celebration, AccessWorld writer Joe Strechay developed two employment-related articles, each providing an important perspective on the employment of people with vision loss. AFB Public Policy Director Mark Richert also reviews and critiques a recent Justice Department report assessing the implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requiring accessibility of electronic and information technology. For our readers with low vision, John Rempel's evaluation of the new features of ZoomText 10 will be of particular interest, and I'm sure those of you interested in Android accessibility will find J.J. Meddaugh's evaluation of Google Jelly Bean to be a very informative read.
This October also marks the one year anniversary of the AccessWorld app. I'm very excited to announce that the app has been downloaded nearly 1,500 times. If you have an iPhone and haven't yet downloaded the app, I encourage you to read Ricky Kirkendall and Darren Burton's article to learn how you can have AccessWorld on your iPhone!
I hope you enjoy this issue and will join AccessWorld in recognizing and celebrating the inroads individuals with vision loss, and all types of disabilities, have made in the world of employment.
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2012 Employment Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is kicking off with some uplifting information about employment for people with disabilities. In past years, there has been an effort on the part of the federal government to become a model employer of people with disabilities. This started with an initiative in 2010 when President Obama signed Executive Order 13548 on July 26, 2010, which was initially brought to light by President Clinton. The US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy worked with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which, in turn, worked with federal agencies to create plans for hiring people with disabilities. The initiative was not created to be just a footnote but, instead, an example for industry to follow.
Not all of the agencies are equally effective, and not all people with disabilities or vision loss have had easy transitions into federal positions. There are numerous success stories and a few not-so-positive examples of how these processes have actually progressed for people with vision loss. That said, 200,000 people with disabilities now work for the federal government, the most in 20 years, and the rate of new hires with disabilities has increased. The process is not complete, but it has seen some success. You can read more about the news announcement and the study that included this information at the US Office of Personnel Management website.
The federal government is not the only organization focusing on hiring employees with disabilities. Many mainstream corporations and industries have realized that people with disabilities are an untapped resource.
Technology and the Employment Process: Benefits and Challenges
The employment process includes training, researching, applying, interviewing, getting hired, starting a job, and maintaining employment. Over the last 15 years in the US, much of the initial phases of the employment process have moved online, meaning job seekers must have computer and Internet access in order to research, find, and act upon the largest number of employment opportunities. Libraries can be an option for those who do not have a computer with Internet at home, though not all libraries have screen access software available. In addition, due to budget and staff limitations, many libraries have trouble maintaining the access technology they do have.
The move toward online applications has some benefits, such as the ability to quickly apply for a job in any location in the nation or the world. A job seeker can apply for a job listing directly from a smartphone via the Web or an app, which can be convenient and fast. A negative aspect of searching for employment online is the proliferation of scams that offer work in exchange for a small investment or those that claim to offer an "easy, work-from-home opportunity."
The ability to network online and connect with people who may be working in the same field is a major benefit of using technology in the employment process. Along with this benefit comes the challenge of ensuring that the people you meet online are honestly representing themselves and their motives. There are also accessibility issues with social networking platforms as access can be limited due to insufficient labeling and other barriers.
Another positive aspect of today's job search is that there are many easily accessible sources for job listings. Online newspaper classified ads, corporate and business websites, job search websites, job announcement boards, and online list services allow for more and faster access to opportunities. On the other hand, with these opportunities comes the increase in effort required to search through jobs that may not relate to your interests.
Technology has also changed the work environment in a profound way. Working from home has become a more accepted practice now that the office is only a call, chat, e-mail, or text away.
2012 Employment Resources Revisited
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Everyone is afforded equal opportunity and access to the employment process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Civil Rights Act, Rehabilitation Act, Age Discrimination Act, and Genetic Information Discrimination Act. Employers are not able to ask prospective employees about their disabilities, so people with disabilities have to be prepared to bring up the topic creatively in order to answer unasked questions related to their ability to perform job requirements. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides oversight to the laws relating to employment and preventing discrimination during the employment process. Over the past year, the EEOC has been revitalized with a lot of new staff and focus.
The CareerConnect website is a fully accessible AFB sub-site dedicated to promoting the employment of people with vision loss. CareerConnect boasts a number of helpful resources, such as articles about the employment process, stories from successfully employed people with vision loss ("Our Stories"), and connections to mentors who are blind or visually impaired that are employed in many fields. These mentors are great resources for career specific questions, job accommodations, and more. CareerConnect also offers useful links for job seekers, career exploration, and résumé development tools. In addition, CareerConnect provides useful tools and activities for professionals working with clients who are blind or visually impaired.
AFB CareerConnect offers Career Clusters, an easier way to navigate government data on popular job fields. The Career Clusters message boards facilitate connecting with mentors in specific fields.
Currently, Career Clusters covers law, education, counseling, and healthcare with more fields, including entertainment, communications, business, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and others, to launch during the coming year. Users can build a network through field-related message boards and profile pages within the CareerConnect program.
The Job Seeker's Toolkit
CareerConnect's Job Seeker's Toolkit, which was launched in the fall of 2010, is a free, self-paced online course aimed at people who are new to the employment process. The Toolkit consists of a series of lessons and assignments that cover self-awareness, career exploration, job seeking tools, pre-interview and interview skills, and job maintenance. As you work your way through the Toolkit, you can save your assignments (ranging from your network contacts, to your résumé and cover letter, to a list of job leads, to your My CareerConnect portfolio) where they can be accessed for future reference or use.
Job Accommodations for Workers with Vision Loss
Career Connect has been working with the American Foundation for the Blind's eLearning Center to create a set of courses aimed at generating better awareness in employers of the types of job accommodations used by people with vision loss.
Five courses in this series will launch this month for National Disability Awareness Month and National Disability Mentoring Day (October 17th). The five courses offered are:
- Etiquette, Myths, and Basics
- Systems, Supports, and Barriers
- Access Technology
- Additional Workplace Access Topics
- Final Steps and Resources
All of the courses contain modules with detailed content that will be useful for vocational rehabilitation staff, transition specialists, and other professionals looking to become more aware about job accommodations, processes, and resources. Visit
AFB's eLearning Center for more information on these offerings.
National Industries for the Blind
Last year, the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) brought a new spin to their employment training programs by adding management tracks. The NIB now offers a contract management training program in connection with a federal government university program. The NIB member organizations hold a number of federal contracts, and the program provides the opportunity to train people to manage those contracts. Contract management is a marketable skill that can be taken to other organizations, governmental agencies, and the public sector. This is also notable as government contractors aim to hire more people with disabilities, which means more possibilities for qualified people with vision loss who have this type of training.
Over the past two years, the NIB Networking Group has worked to provide great online and offline networking opportunities in the Washington DC area and has added New York City to the list of networking groups. Since the networking groups have been popular and growing, NIB is interested in starting networking groups in other metropolitan areas.
NIB CareersWithVision website is the result of a collaborative effort between AFB CareerConnect and the NIB. The NIB has compiled a large list of jobs from around the US within organizations that do work in fields related to blindness, or that have hired people with visual impairments. A unique feature of the site is that you can submit your CareerConnect résumé to participating organizations in order to apply for jobs. This service requires you to create a free CareerConnect user profile to get search the job board, develop a résumé, and apply to positions.
Hadley School for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind offers online and correspondence courses for people with vision loss in subjects related to blindness skills, business writing, employment, and more. Hadley's exciting program, the Forsythe Center for Entrepreneurship, offers in-depth information and training for entrepreneurs who are blind or visually impaired and who want to start their own businesses. This resource has seen growth and innovation through partnerships with groups like the Veteran's Administration and others.
Accessing Federal Jobs
Federal agencies have two job application methods available for people with disabilities: competitive and non-competitive placements. Job applicants must meet specified qualifications and be able to perform essential job duties related to any position with reasonable accommodations.
Jobs that are filled competitively are advertised on USAJOBS, the official job-posting site used by the United States government. There are approximately 16,000 jobs available on the site each day. Once you register on the site, you can set up notifications for job advertisements related to selected keywords. Jobs filled non-competitively are available to those with mental, severe physical, or psychiatric disabilities who have appropriate documentation as specified by the US Office of Personnel Management.
The US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers useful connections to resources for self-employment, youth employment, employer advisement, the latest disability policies, and more. This office advises the US Department of Labor and other government agencies on employment issues regarding people with disabilities.
GettingHired, LLC offers training courses, opportunities to connect with employers, career personality assessments, and other employment resources for people with disabilities. GettingHired has recently announced a partnership with HirePotential, Inc., which will provide specialized training courses for national employers on the accommodation process, disability etiquette training, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs compliance, tax credit utilization, and disability awareness training for recruiters and hiring managers.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an online resource for accommodation advice for all disabilities. The website also allows users to submit questions regarding special accommodations and ADA issues in the workplace. JAN hosts webcasts on the provision of job accommodations, and the programs can be accessed through their website.
Career One Stop
Career One Stop is a free resource provided by the US Department of Labor that allows you to search state job bank databases.
Career centers help people perform research to support professional goals. Colleges, universities, and post-secondary and vocational schools often have career centers, and many are available to the public. You may have to visit, call, or do some online research to find out what is available to you locally. Keep in mind that many career centers maintain robust websites accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, and these sites may offer many free resources and materials. Career centers are often underutilized, and most are eager to have visitors. Some receive grant money to offer services to the community or state, and some actively recruit people with disabilities to their centers.
Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
Vocational rehabilitation helps people with disabilities prepare for entry or re-entry into the workforce. Your local vocational rehabilitation agency will offer a range of programs, resources, and services to help you prepare for and find work. The range of programs offered by these agencies varies from state to state, so research your local vocational rehabilitation agency, determine what programs and services you are eligible for, and register.
In most cases, these organizations exist to help you become job-ready and find employment. Some may also train you in independent daily living, orientation and mobility, and access technology. These organizations will also know about other available resources in your community and state. To find a local or state agency near you, use the AFB Directory of Services.
There are several organizations, such as recruitment consulting firms and job boards, making an effort to find talented people to fill jobs and create careers. The following organizations are just a few standouts.
Stephen-Bradford Search is an executive consultant search firm that looks to connect the right person with the right job. The motivation and passion from their personnel explodes through the phone. Their core values are accountability, growth, integrity, positive culture, and respect.
The firm is dedicated to improving people's lives by identifying talented individuals and is known as a forward-thinking, highly ethical search firm. Its expertise is in marketing, sales, business development, account management, and operations across many industries, including the following: advertising, beauty/luxury, consumer goods, digital/social media, emerging technologies, and market research for nonprofit organizations. The management and recruiters come from the industries for which they recruit, and they are dedicated to helping clients build their business with people who drive growth and results.
Stephen-Bradford Search is not an organization that specifically aims at the recruitment of people with vision loss. It aims to find talented people who are qualified individuals and can get the job done. That said, the firm does have personnel who are visually impaired, and if you are working in any of the fields listed, this is a recommended organization to contact.
Big Tent Jobs
Big Tent Jobs is a national recruiting firm based in Michigan that places professionals with and without disabilities in career positions at leading companies. With a focus on Information Technology, Big Tent Jobs has openings in computer programming, systems administration, software development, and much more.
Big Tent Jobs works at a high level with each candidate to make sure he or she is appropriately qualified and prepared to ace an interview and receive a job offer. Big Tent Jobs offers opportunities with successful corporations looking to hire quality personnel.
At the Big Tent Jobs website, you can search through available job listings and connect with an experienced and eager recruiter to find out how he or she can help connect you to your next big job. Big Tent Jobs works with candidates who are blind or visually impaired or who have other kinds of disabilities or chronic conditions.
disABLED Person, Inc.
disABLEDperson, Inc. is a non-profit public foundation with the mission to reduce the extremely high unemployment rate amongst the disabled by providing online recruitment solutions as well as program initiatives. A primary goal associated with this mission is to connect individuals and veterans who have disabilities with employers who are proactive in hiring them. It accomplishes this goal through their disABILITY job matching system.
Another goal is to assist its community members in gaining marketable job skills that will translate into sustainable employment, accomplished through their Microsoft IT Academy program. Recently, the organization has created a partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation and an alliance with the United States Business Leadership Network. You can visit the Web portals at the disABLEDperson, Inc. website or the Job Opportunities for Disabled American Veterans (JOFDAV) website.
Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind
Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, a member organization of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB), is trailblazing the path to successful employment for people with visual impairments. Recently, Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind began an initiative to create and fill 500 living wage jobs over the next number of years for people who are blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind. The organization doesn't just want these jobs to be within their industry's sector but throughout the organization. Kevin Daniel, Sr. Director of Strategic Recruiting, searches out talented people who are blind with positive attitudes. He feels that if he can find a talented worker, he can find the right position within the organization. Mr. Daniel is also a person with vision loss and believes that there needs to be more people with vision loss and deaf-blindness in executive roles and that these individuals should be committed to the hiring and mentoring of other individuals who have visual impairments to fill these roles in the future.
During National Disability Employment Awareness Month and beyond, take the time to spread the message that individuals with disabilities can be great employees. Remember, it's important not to forget the word "qualified" when advocating for employment equality. If you're in a position to do so, open some employment doors for a qualified person with a disability. Contact your local state agency for people with disabilities to find out about any awareness activities planned this month. Your local state vocational rehabilitation agency, blind services, or community rehabilitation provider would be a good place to start.
Create your own opportunity to expand awareness and education of the public through offering presentations to your local schools and community organizations. You may just create an opportunity for employment for others in the future.
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The Impact of the Popular Media on Public Perception of People with Disabilities
More than ever before, people with disabilities are valued and included members of society. This is due, in part, to portrayals of people with disabilities, including those with vision loss, in the popular media. We sometimes see groups not often represented on television presented in roles as police officers, judges, lawyers, and teachers, that hold a level of professional respect in our society. In some manner, reality television has broken all of the molds completely, showcasing real people who accomplish unexpected tasks and are successful in their chosen professions. When done well, television can desensitize and educate the public, and it seems that these days more shows accurately portray people with disabilities.
Positive Portrayals of People with Disabilities
Through the decades, on television and in movies, we have seen different portrayals of people with disabilities in roles that do not focus solely on their disabilities. In the best cases, these portrayals place underrepresented populations in the foreground, and serve to develop a level of comfort and promote some understanding in viewers that may not have previously existed.
In the 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life, Geri Jewell, an actress with cerebral palsy, was one of the first people with a disability to have a regular role on a primetime television show. Jewell was witty and intelligent both in character and in person, and went on to become a very successful standup comedian.
The early 90s show Life Goes On featured Corky Thatcher, a major character with Down syndrome, played by actor Chris Burke, who has the same chromosomal condition. The show followed Corky in an inclusive setting through his public school education where he faced typical high school issues. This series demonstrated the Thatcher family's interactions as they faced all kinds of situations related to life and disability. Since the show included such a wide variety of daily life issues, it provided a positive demonstration to the public of what it means to live life to the fullest with a disability.
Marlee Matlin, a dynamic actress with a hearing impairment, has been seen on many shows, including The West Wing, Dancing with the Stars, and Celebrity Apprentice. In addition to her numerous television appearances, she has also had an impressive film career, winning the 1986 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the youngest actress to win that honor at the time. Over the course of her career she has portrayed a full range of unique characters, none defined solely by their disability.
On the reality television circuit, Little People, Big World follows the Rolloff family, several of whom are people with dwarfism. The series has explored a variety of domestic situations over the years, and has demonstrated the frustrations that people with dwarfism face in everyday life along with how the family overcomes obstacles. Another TLC reality television show, Little Couple, also follows a successful Texas couple who are both people with dwarfism. Jen is a Neonatal Intensive Care Specialist, and Ben is a business owner and entrepreneur. In this series, viewers watch the newlywed couple begin their new family while building a house and continuing with their careers.
In every episode, the ABC reality series Expedition Impossible has multiple three-person teams compete in a series of challenges involving outdoor activities, such as climbing, rappelling and white water kayaking, along with puzzles, problem solving, and more. The teams feature people who have pursued intense physical training for professional (such as firefighters and professional athletes) or personal reasons. One team included Erik Weihenmayer, a professional mountain climber, world adventurer, author, and teacher. Although he is blind, Mr. Weihenmayer has climbed the seven peaks, a great accomplishment that only a select number of people can claim, and has also demonstrated his unique talents in hiking, and solo kayaking through white water rapids. Many viewers were blown away by his adventures throughout the show, and his team finished second overall. His and his teammates' participation and success in these intensive physical activities created a significant impression on the public as to what a person with vision loss can accomplish.
Fox show MasterChef puts home cooks from around the country in competition with each other for the title of MasterChef, a prize of $250,000, and a cookbook publishing deal. This past season featured Christine Ha, a graduate student at the University of Houston in Texas and a food and recipe blogger who is also almost completely blind. Throughout the show, prompted by questions from the judges, Ha provided insight into how she accomplishes tasks in the kitchen without the use of her vision.
Such positive, informative examples in the popular media have led employers to recalibrate their conceptions of what people with any kind of disability can accomplish, and have led to many career opportunities for those with visual impairments or other disabilities.
Just as positive portrayals of individuals with disabilities can help overcome stereotypical and misguided public perception, there are also many depictions in the media that generate and perpetuate limiting assumptions about what people with disabilities can accomplish, particularly concerning vision loss.
The film Scent of a Woman is about a depressed man who lost his vision during military service, and plans to kill himself during a trip to New York City. In the film, he is able to drive a sports car at very fast speeds through New York City without any mistakes or practice and dances a tango perfectly without any missteps after merely asking the dimensions of the dance floor. That's quite the trick.
Similarly, the film At First Sight follows Julian, a massage therapist who has lost his vision due to retinitis pigmentosa and cataracts. In the film, he demonstrates his amazing ability to listen to rain on a roof and, suddenly, be able to describe the structure. Julian's portrayal also encourages the "brailling someone's face" myth in which he touches another character's face in order to know what he or she looks like.
These unrealistic characterizations generate false ideas in the public about those who are blind and visually impaired. These types of unrealistic portrayals can spur the public to behave inappropriately around people with visual impairments, and dismiss them from certain opportunities.
I'm looking forward to seeing Trouble with the Curve, which features Clint Eastwood's portrayal of a baseball scout dealing with vision loss due to macular degeneration. Eastwood's character has to adapt to vision loss and learn new skills as an older worker, a very real situation for many employees today.
There are many positive portrayals in the media that help break stereotypes about, and increase opportunities for, people who have disabilities. Such positive portrayals can open doors for people in the world of employment, while negative or inaccurate portrayals serve to reinforce common misconceptions held by the public. Television shows, films, and other forms of media that bring authentic role models truthfully to the foreground should be commended and encouraged to continue this positive work.
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Cell Phone Accessibility
An Evaluation of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Using the Nexus 7
For the past couple of years, AccessWorld has highlighted the benefits and pitfalls of Android accessibility in several evaluations. While some Android features have been accessible for quite some time, many shortcomings have prevented the Google mobile operating system from achieving widespread adoption. Manufacturers have released models without the required accessibility features built in. Phones without physical keyboards have offered limited functionality. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the latest version of Android will be available for any given device. Therefore, while many tech-savvy users have indeed conquered and are currently using an Android device, much improvement still needs to be made.
Google aimed to solve some of these concerns with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This version allowed, for the first time, touch exploration of the device, access to the built-in Web browser, and improved access to many built-in Google applications. Darren Burton and Matthew Enigk evaluate an early version of Android 4.0 in the March 2012 issue of AccessWorld, and although some of the concerns outlined in that article have been addressed, there is still room for improvement.
Android 4.1, known as Jelly Bean, is the third major stab at accessibility support from Google. This latest version of the Android operating system first appeared on the Asus Nexus 7, a 7-inch budget wi-fi tablet, available in 8GB and 16GB models. Jelly Bean has since been made available on several phones, including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S3. Will the third time be the charm for Google?
Android 4.0 includes a rectangle gesture for turning on speech upon initial launch. Drawing this shape proved difficult to many, primarily with difficulties in activating accessibility features. Android 4.1 adds a second option, a two finger tap-and-hold gesture. For best success, place two fingers, slightly spread apart, in the middle of the device and press down for a few seconds. If you are successful, you will be prompted to keep holding your fingers to enable accessibility. While this gesture is a vast improvement over the rectangle gesture offered in Android 4.0, some users still report problems activating accessibility features.
Furthermore, if the initial setup screen is bypassed for any reason, sighted assistance is still generally required. The fact that this issue remains to be addressed is appalling to say the least. At minimum, there should be a way to plug a device into a computer and activate accessibility using software installed on the computer. The lack of a backdoor way to enable speech in case of an emergency is a major oversight that Google has been aware of for quite some time.
If accessibility does activate as documented, the user is presented with a modified tutorial that guides the user through some of the new gestures and features of Jelly Bean discussed below.
Gestures in Jelly Bean
Getting past the initial setup, the new interface for Android 4.1 is a vast improvement in many areas. TalkBack, the built-in Android screen reader, now includes a gesture mode that allows the user to navigate around the screen and activate items. Some gestures will seem quite familiar to iPhone users, such as swiping right and left to move through items and double tapping to activate the last spoken item. The problem of activating the wrong item in the Android 4.0 Explore by Touch mode has been eliminated.
Android 4.1 also includes gestures that allow the user to navigate by character, word, or paragraph. To cycle through various navigation levels, use an up-down gesture by swiping up and back down without lifting your finger. The opposite down-up gesture cycles through the various navigation modes in reverse.
Additional gestures are included, such as the ability to navigate through lists a page at a time (right-left and left-right) and the ability to quickly jump to various phone screens, such as the Notification Bar or Recent Apps.
Other accessibility features are being added as the gesture mode evolves. A recent version has added support for continuous reading, either from the current position or from the top of the screen. Speech can now be silenced by putting a finger near the light or proximity sensors on a device.
In addition to the gesture mode, Explore by Touch is still available for jumping quickly to a specific part of the screen. A common method for navigation is to tap the screen near the area where you believe the icon is and then to swipe right or left until the icon is located. It's worth noting that the status icons displaying battery life, signal strength, network connectivity, and other information are treated as a single icon in TalkBack, making it difficult to quickly obtain a single piece of information (such as the date, the current time, etc.). While one could install widgets to place these individual items on the home screen, this is an issue that should be resolved.
The Chrome browser ships with the latest versions of Android and is largely accessible, but navigating through complex websites can cause the browser to freeze. The simple navigation levels discussed above can be used to move through Web pages. Some additional controls, such as the ability to navigate by headings, lists, or tables, would be effective additions. Indeed, some of these options are possible using a Bluetooth keyboard, but this is not always a practical solution. The Mozilla Firefox Web browser discussed below is also another option to consider.
Android 4.1 has eliminated the need for a third-party keyboard, bringing the previous features of the Eyes-Free Keyboard into the latest version. To use the Eyes-Free Keyboard, move your finger to a letter, symbol, or function icon, then lift your finger to activate the button. This generally works well, but we would like to see some increased responsiveness in this mode. It's also possible to navigate through typed text to make changes and corrections. By default, for security reasons headphones are required to enter passwords. While this is a good idea in theory, the option should probably be turned off by default, especially to allow for entering wi-fi and e-mail passwords during the initial set-up.
Google has vastly improved Voice Search in Android 4.1, allowing for spoken answers to many common queries. For instance, one could ask "What is the temperature in Seattle?" or "What was the score of the Tigers game?" and receive a nearly instant spoken response. This feature works well with VoiceOver silenced to allow for the voice query to be spoken.
Jelly Bean includes a new instant dictation feature, which is a mixed blessing for TalkBack users. Now, TalkBack correctly speaks words as they are typed, but this can interfere with the voice input, causing words to be entered more than once if the microphone hears TalkBack's speech. Possible workarounds are to use headphones or to turn the speech volume down to a level where the microphone does not detect TalkBack. Android 4.1 also includes support for offline dictation, meaning an Internet connection is not required to use voice input as is the case for other devices.
I was pleasantly surprised to find an entire chapter dedicated to accessibility in the Nexus 7 manual. The chapter describes the available accessibility gestures and gives tips for navigating around popular applications. Slowly, more resources are appearing to offer users assistance with their Android device or provide step-by-step instructions. As more users adopt the platform, these resources will likely expand.
While this review has focused on the built-in accessibility features of Android 4.1, some additional apps are worth mentioning.
Shades is a simple app that allows you to turn the screen brightness down to zero, similar to the screen curtain feature on the iPhone. This allows for increased privacy and is also likely to save battery life. It's compatible with Android 2.3 and up.
Mozilla has made significant strides with the accessibility of the Android version of the Firefox Beta Web browser. Users may prefer the increased navigation options available when compared with the built-in Chrome browser.
Several additional text-to-speech voices are available for Android, giving the option for more human-sounding speech synthesis. One of the latest additions is the familiar suite of voices from Acapela TTS Voices. These voices have been found to be highly responsive and a welcome improvement when compared to the built-in offerings.
BrailleBack is an initial attempt at braille display support for Android. The current implementation was quite unstable and only included support for grade one braille output. While I appreciate the initial progress in this area, this is an app that could use some major improvement.
There are several additional accessibility features that would improve the Android experience for users who are blind or have low vision. For instance, there is currently no way to programmatically turn speech on or off, a feature often useful for applications with built-in gesture support or for having a non-speech user use your device temporarily. Other welcome additions would be the ability to add alternative text for unlabeled icons and a method to control the verbosity level of the screen reader. It's worth noting that Android has vastly overhauled its accessibility services for developers, which means that chances have improved that a third-party screen reader including many of these requests will be developed.
Android on the Job
Determining if Android is a suitable platform for your employment needs will depend largely on your job requirements and daily routine. Like most mobile operating systems, the strengths of Android include managing contacts, reading e-mail, and browsing the Web. If you need to check your messages while traveling, schedule appointments, utilize GPS tools, or keep simple notes, Android 4.1 includes all of the tools necessary to accomplish these tasks. For producing large documents, managing spreadsheets, or updating databases, a laptop computer may be a better mobile aid. Indeed, many business professionals use a combination of mobile devices and laptop or desktop computers, providing higher productivity while on the job.
To be fair, it's difficult for most reviewers to give a truly unbiased review of Android accessibility. Those who use the iPhone as their primary device are likely to have different expectations than someone who has been a regular Android user. Ultimately, you will need to evaluate the various solutions currently available and decide which features are most important for your situation. While not perfect, Android 4.1 has taken some major strides toward a complete accessibility solution, but some additional customizations or third-party apps may be necessary for an optimal experience. I look forward to further developments from Google and hope they come sooner rather than later. Google has the tools to become a leader in accessibility and should do all it can to further explore this opportunity.
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ZoomText Reinventing Itself: A Review of ZoomText 10 and Its New Features
The last significant update to the ZoomText screen magnification program was the release of ZoomText 9.1 back in 2007. To remain competitive amidst an ever-expanding landscape of screen magnification and screen reading solutions, companies like Ai Squared have been rolling out a wider array of features and capabilities bundled into their software solutions. As Ai Squared states on its website, ZoomText 10 pushes the theme of "bringing it all together" with the expanded features available in this latest release. This product review will examine some of the more prominent aspects of ZoomText 10 that are not found in previous versions of the product.
Caption: ZoomText Magnifier and ZoomText Magnifier Reader
ZoomText Magnifier and ZoomText Magnifier/Reader
For several years now, Ai Squared has offered ZoomText with and without speech output. These two flavors of ZoomText 10 are referred to as ZoomText Magnifier/Reader and ZoomText Magnifier, respectively. The primary difference between them is that ZoomText Magnifier does not include any of the speech output or text-to-audio recording options that ZoomText Magnifier/Reader offers. If you are not in need of any of the speech options, the less expensive ZoomText Magnifier, which sells for $399, may be a more suitable option. ZoomText Magnifier/Reader retails for $599.
Documentation and Help
ZoomText ships with an installation CD, a comprehensive 340-page User's Guide, and a 95-page Quick Reference Guide. The majority of the text in both guides is displayed using 14-point font. Graphics, some of which are very small, are used throughout the guides. It's an age-old tradeoff with hardcopy materials to sacrifice portability to size when adjusting font and image sizes. This is especially true when dealing with a 340-page User's Guide, which could very quickly balloon into more than 500 pages if larger fonts and graphics were used.
Ai Squared provides downloadable versions (Microsoft Word and PDF formats) of the User's Guide and Quick Reference Guide on its website under Documentation. Including these files on the ZoomText installation CD would give users easy, electronic access and would save them the extra steps of finding and downloading. Including an 8.5 by 11 inch double-sided cheat sheet containing a handful of the most frequently used ZoomText shortcuts for quick reference and portability purposes would be a valuable asset to include with the guides. Using a 22- or 24-point font would also make it much more visually accessible for the user that ZoomText is designed for.
The installation process (discussed below) places an icon on the Desktop called ZoomText Videos. This series of videos provides clear, step-by-step instructions on how to use many of the newer features found in ZoomText 10.
Ease of Installation
Installing ZoomText can be done by either downloading the program from the Ai Squared website or by using the installation CD. ZoomText 10 supports computers running the Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 operating systems. The installation process is simple and straightforward. By default, speech output is enabled during setup; you have the option to disable speech early on in the setup if you choose to do so. The step-by-step installation wizard walks you through the process with relative ease. You can choose an automatic or customized installation. For most people, the automatic installation will be the most effective option. The additional options available in the customized installation can be changed at a later date.
The entire installation takes ten to twenty minutes, depending on the processing speed of your computer. For the purposes of this review, a Pentium 4, 3.0 GHz machine with 4 gigabytes of RAM and the Windows 7 operating system was used. The default setup configuration loads ZoomText at startup. Depending on the speed of your processor and the amount of RAM on your computer, it may take a couple minutes more for your computer to boot up with ZoomText loading at startup.
According to the User's Guide, the minimum system requirements for ZoomText 10 using the Vista or Windows 7 operating system is a 1.5 GHz processor with 1 GB RAM. If you are doing any type of multitasking (which ZoomText 10 is supposed handle well), at least 4 GB of RAM and a 2.0 GHz processor would be preferable.
Comparing ZoomText 9.0 and ZoomText 10
If you have used previous versions of ZoomText, you'll recognize that many of the useful features are still found in ZoomText 10. This review focuses primarily on the latest features of ZoomText and will not be repeating many of the features already found in previous versions of ZoomText. If you have not had previous exposure to earlier versions of ZoomText, it may be useful to refer to Lee Huffman's article in the March 2008 publication of AccessWorld: Focus on Screen Magnification, Part 1: A Review of ZoomText 9.0 and LunarPlus 6.5.
Background Reader allows you to listen to text read from one document or program, such as webpages or documents, while you simultaneously view another document or program. Background Reader (abbreviated "BgRdr") is located within the Tools menu and in the Tools tab of the ZoomText Control Panel.
Caption: Background Reader Toolbar
For this review, Internet Explorer 9.0 and Firefox 15 were used along with Microsoft Word 2010. To begin using Background Reader, select the desired text you wish to have read. The YouTube training video demonstrating Background Reader makes this task look effortless when using the mouse. If you have selected text on a webpage using the mouse in the past, you will know how challenging this can sometimes be, especially when using a higher level of magnification. Using shortcut keys to select text can often make this task much easier. To successfully select text on webpages using the keyboard, Caret Browsing will need to be enabled. This is done by pressing F7 within the browser itself and selecting the necessary option within the dialog box. After Caret Browsing is enabled, many of the same cursor control keys used to select text in a word processor can also be used on a webpage. Including the steps needed to select text on webpages using the keyboard in the video and manual would increase the level of usability for people who have difficulties selecting text using the mouse and who use high levels of magnification. The only reference in the ZoomText video of using the keyboard to select text is the Control + A shortcut key, which selects all text.
After you have selected the text, Background Reader can be opened by either pressing the shortcut key Caps Lock + C or by carrying out the Paste command with Control + V and, then, selecting the Background Reader via the ZoomText control panel. By default the small, rectangular shaped Background Reader Toolbar remains in the foreground of the screen, regardless of which program you navigate to. The Toolbar gives you a number of options, including the ability to pause and play the selected text and navigate back and forth word by word or sentence by sentence. You can also hide the Background Reader Toolbar and rely on its shortcut key equivalents to carry out specific commands as well.
The value of Background Reader will depend a lot on how you typically use a computer. This feature appears to be geared more toward an intermediate to advanced computer user who is used to having more than one program open at once and is able to multitask quickly and efficiently.
The ZoomText Recorder is a powerful tool with the potential to be used in a variety of ways. Recorder allows you to turn text from a document, e-mail, or webpage into an audio recording that you can then transfer to a mobile device, such an MP3 player or smartphone, or play from your computer at a later date.
Caption: ZoomText Recorder Dialog Box
The straightforward and simple interface makes it easy to use. Select the text you wish to convert to an audio file, then select the Recorder control located under the Tools tab of the ZoomText control panel. A dialog box appears and gives you a number of options to choose from, including three file types: WMA, WAV, and MP3. You are given the option of modifying the recording rate and pitch. You can also choose whether to have the text recorded in a male voice (Paul) or a female voice (Kate) using the NeoSpeech synthesizer.
When saving a file in MP3 format, by default it will automatically be imported into iTunes, and a folder will be created called ZoomText Recorder. This makes it easy to locate and transfer files if you are using iTunes in conjunction with an Apple device. A handful of shortcut keys can also be used to expedite the text to audio file conversion process.
According to Ai Squared, recordings generally take about ten to fifteen seconds per page to record. This may be the case with faster processors and when a double-spaced page of text is being converted. Using a 3.0 GHz machine with 4 gigabytes of RAM, it took one minute and seven seconds to convert a 500 word document into an MP3 file.
Read from Pointer
The Read from Pointer feature does exactly what its name suggests. It reads the text beginning from the location at which you left-click your mouse, through the remainder of the text. This is accomplished by simultaneously holding the Shift and Alt key down at the same time. ZoomText also highlights the portion of text that is being read with a red perimeter. This feature works best when you're using it with straight text; it does not operate reliably on the ribbon, status bar, or taskbar of the Office 2010 Suite. The SpeakIt tool found in the Reader tab of the ZoomText control panel is more effective at reading components outside of the text window of programs. Read from Pointer also works well on webpages as long as the content of what you want to have read is primarily text.
ZoomText 10 gives you the ability to interface with a high-definition Web cam to view and magnify printed items and other objects on your computer screen. Ai Squared bundles the commercially available Logitech c615 USB Web cam with two types of stands: a clamp-on stand and a metal, 8 inch by 10 inch table top stand. A flexible 24-inch goose neck arm is included, which suspends the camera above the viewing area and allows for maneuverability. The camera and goose neck arm bundled with the clamp-on stand and table top stand sell for $179 and $199, respectively. Both stands with the aforementioned hardware sell for $239.
Caption: ZoomText Camera Toolbar
Assembling the camera with the goose neck arm and either of the stands is simple and straightforward. A fitting at the base of the arm simply slides into the joint of either stand to secure it in place. No screws or fasteners are needed. The camera is also plug-and-play. Once the camera is plugged into any available USB port on your computer and has been detected, Camera Features under the Tools tab of the ZoomText control panel is enabled. The original Logitech CD is included with the camera, but it's not needed when using the camera with ZoomText 10.
Setting up the position of the camera to achieve the correct height and angle is the most challenging part of the set-up. Ai Squared recommends that the height of the camera be no more than four inches from the viewable surface area. Positioning the camera at the recommended height, lining it up so that parallel or perpendicular alignment of the reading material is achieved, and pointing the direction of the camera so it faces straight down rather than at an angle are all required in order to achieve the best image. The flexible goose neck arm and the lightweight camera make this bundle a portable solution, but because the goose neck arm does not hold its shape after it's moved or transported, it also requires that the camera be repositioned every time the unit is set up.
Camera View Options
The camera itself does not contain any physical controls. All of the options are available via the ZoomText Camera toolbar and shortcut keys. The two modes available are full view and docked mode. Full view simply means that the image of the camera is displayed on the entire screen. Docked mode allows you to split the screen so that half of the screen displays the camera image and the other half displays the regular computer image. Other options available with Camera View include increasing and decreasing the image size, six high-contrast color modes, and manual adjustment of brightness and contrast.
Image Quality and Size
The image quality of the Logitech c615 web cam is a mixed bag. In a stationary position and with sufficient lighting, the camera renders a clear, high quality image. Panning printed material from side to side and top to bottom, however, causes a significant amount of image blurring and distortion. The recommended height of the camera at four inches or less from the viewable surface area also causes the head of the camera to cast a sizeable shadow when used in an environment with overhead lighting. The fact that the camera does not have its own light source significantly compromises the quality of the image. A task lamp can be used so that the casting of the shadow from the camera head becomes a non-issue and ensures that sufficient lighting is available, but this additional requirement detracts from the portability and versatility of the product.
The Logitech c615 Web cam provides a wide range of magnification. Using a 22-inch LCD monitor, 11-point font can be displayed anywhere from half-an-inch to nine inches in height. At the higher levels of magnification, significant pixelation of text also occurs.
Web Finder is located in the Magnifier tab of the control panel and is simply abbreviated as "Web." This is a powerful feature that works with both the Firefox and Internet Explorer Web browsers. As it stands now, Web Finder does not work with the Opera and Chrome Web browsers. Web Finder allows you to quickly locate specific text, which it will then highlight and read within the context of its paragraph.
Caption: Web Finder Toolbar
Web Finder can also list a number of different elements within a Web page, displaying them in a list box. These include headings, links, forms, images, tables, lists, and controls. Within the list box, you can use the arrow keys to move through the various items or press the first letter of the item you're searching for to jump through the list. The Web Finder Toolbar also allows you to move to the next or previous occurrence of a specific element. The seven elements of a webpage that ZoomText 10 identifies can also be accessed via shortcut keys. With the Web Finder feature, ZoomText 10 has taken a significant step closer toward becoming a full-blown screen reader.
Center Alignment Options
Buried within the Settings drop-down menu and within the Alignment tab of the Alignment dialog box are a set of options that allow you to change the tracking of the mouse pointer, text cursor, control, and menu items from the default setting of margin edges to the center of the viewable area of the screen. These options are not new to ZoomText 10, but they are often overlooked or ignored. Changing these settings from "Within Edge Margins" to "Center" can make tracking of the mouse and active elements of the screen much easier for anyone who has difficulties with tracking in general and can be especially useful for people who have field loss. By making this change, the mouse pointer or active element remains close to the center of the screen and thereby minimizes the need to visually pan the screen. Because of the value of these sets of options to many people with visual impairments and field loss, having them displayed in a more prominent location, such as the ZoomText control panel, may help more users become aware of them.
The Bottom Line
ZoomText 10 has moved far beyond what its previous versions have offered. A concerted effort has been made to make this product and its features user friendly. The online help videos are easily accessed via the ZoomText Videos icon placed conveniently on the desktop. For the most part, they are clear and concise instructions with many of the new features found within ZoomText 10. The new ZoomText Recorder also proves to be a valuable, easy-to-use tool, especially in light of the fact that so many people now have mobile devices and MP3 players that allow them to benefit from text-to-audio recordings on the go. The Web Finder option is another feature that elevates ZoomText 10 beyond any previous versions. Isolating the various elements of webpages and, then, allowing them to be displayed within a list box are capabilities that are more typically found in full blown screen readers, such as JAWS and Window-Eyes. The expanded capabilities of the speech output options move ZoomText 10 towards functioning like a combined screen magnification and screen reading program, as opposed to a screen magnifying program with speech output as a secondary learning modality.
The highly touted ZoomText Camera was a little disappointing. At best, it's another tool at your disposal to use in specific situations when other video magnifier solutions are unavailable or unaffordable. Because the ZoomText Camera solution does not contain its own light source, produces significant blurring when panning material, and casts a significant shadow on the viewable surface area, it's a weak replacement for more traditional electronic magnifier (CCTV) solutions. It can be argued that the camera and stand solution is competitively priced at less than $200, but it can also be argued that, in this case, you may be getting what you pay for. Overall, the additional features that are packed into ZoomText 10 are impressive and expand its capabilities far beyond any previously released version of ZoomText.
AI squared offers a free 60-day trial version of ZoomText 10.
Product: ZoomText 10
ZoomText Camera and Clamp-On Stand: $179
ZoomText Camera and Table Top Stand: $199
ZoomText Camera with both Clamp-On and Table Top Stand: $239
Address: P.O. Box 669 Manchester Center, VT 05255
Phone: (802) 362-3612
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What's on this Page: A Review of the SayText, Prizmo, and TextDetective iOS Reading Apps
When the K-NFB Reader Mobile was released in January 2008, it revolutionized how people with visual impairments could scan and read printed materials using their cell phone camera. The K-NFB Reader Mobile's software, an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program, was developed by Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind. That software, however, can only be used on a limited number of Nokia cell phones, which not all carriers support, and although the K-NFB Reader Mobile is self-voicing (which makes the cell phone fully accessible), a separate screen reader program must be purchased and installed. The K-NFB Reader, Nokia phone, and separate screen reader can be a very expensive combination.
Users of iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, etc.) now have several choices for OCR apps. Although these apps do not have all the capabilities of the pioneering K-NFB Reader Mobile, they are extremely inexpensive, and no additional screen reader is necessary.
The apps reviewed here are SayText, Prizmo, and TextDetective. SayText and TextDetective are designed specifically for people with visual impairments. For this review, each app was tested three times using a printed sheet (a letter), a glossy page from a magazine, and a book page, on both an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 4S. (The iPhone 4S has a more sophisticated camera than the iPhone 4, but the slight improvement in performance is not enough to warrant getting the 4S.) Lighting conditions were the same for all tests.
These apps need good light as they will not work in very dim lighting conditions. Finding the correct distance between the document and the camera lens takes some trial and error, and it's not always the distance that the app instructions recommend. Depending on the size of the page, it may take several scans to capture the entire document. The document needs to be flat, since any wrinkling or folds will cause the app to read as gibberish. If scanning results come back as a combination of words and gibberish, try a different scanning distance, make sure the document is completely flat, and try scanning with more available light (and be careful not to block the light with your body).
SayText Version 1.3
As described in the iTunes Store, SayText Version 1.3 is a free product created for users who are blind or visually impaired. It requires iOS 5.0 or later.
When the app loads, there are four available buttons: "Take Picture," "Tutorial," "Settings," and "Info." The tutorial is easy to follow, but unfortunately, the app does not work properly. According to the tutorial, the user must place the iOS device on the document with the camera facing down, then slowly lift the device up. When the document is in focus, a beep should sound. The camera takes the photo and then translates the result into text. While the document is processing, the user can tap the screen to check on progress. Once the document is converted, you swipe right to hear the text.
During all the testing, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S never made a beep sound and never snapped a photo. You need to activate the "Take Picture" button, which brings up a new screen with a "Camera" button, and activating that button causes the camera to take a picture. When the app indicated that OCR was complete, I attempted to read the text, but all I got was gibberish.
The app did not read the printed page, the glossy magazine page, or the page from a book. I used sighted assistance to try to get a better image but still had the same result. My next step was to check the AppleVis website to determine if other users have the same problem. There are many comments, and everyone that posted a comment seems to have had the same experience.
SayText is a very disappointing product. According to the instructions, it's easy to use and gives good results, but we were unable to get the app to read anything during testing.
Prizmo Version 1.1.7
This $9.99 app works on all iOS devices running iOS 3.1 or later. The iTunes Store description of the app claims that Prizmo will scan and recognize the text from your photos of text documents, business cards, bills, and even whiteboards, and with the use of Cloud technology, you can share that information with your other devices as well as with other people. Another highlighted feature is that this app has speech-operated shooting for taking the image that you want read.
This app is somewhat complicated to use. When the app loads, there are several options from which to choose, including Settings, Text, and Business Card. In the Settings menu, you should turn off the alignment grid and turn on the speech control option, which allows the user to take a photo by voice rather than by activating the button. This can help with image stabilization. Since VoiceOver's volume will decrease significantly once the camera option in the app is activated, you might want to wear headphones in order to hear instructions at a normal volume.
Once out of the Settings menu, place the iPhone on the document with the camera's lens in the middle of the page, using the side of the document to ensure the phone is straight. After lifting the phone 7 to 9 inches from the paper, double tap the "Text" Button. When the next screen loads, activate the "Camera" button. Your phone will vibrate when the camera screen loads; you'll hear the VoiceOver prompt, "Say 'Take Picture' when ready."
Once you take the picture, activate the "Use" button, which is the last button at the bottom of the screen. On the next screen, activate the "Next" button at the top right, which activates the processing screen. Once processed, VoiceOver will announce that the document can be edited, and you can read the results by doing a two finger swipe down. After you have reviewed the document, activate the "Next" button. On the new screen, there will be several options, including "Save," "Translate," and "Copy." Doing a three finger left swipe will bring up additional options, such as "Mail" and the Cloud app. Activating any of these buttons will open up the appropriate page. Activating the "Done" button in the upper right corner of the screen will close the screen and bring the app back to its home screen.
Prizmo did best with the letter and the magazine page. Although one scan of each did not give all the information and resulted in some gibberish, most of the information was read. Prizmo had more trouble with the book, especially with text closest to the fold.
TextDetective version 1.0.4
This $1.99 app works on iOS 5 or later and was designed for people with visual impairments. The app description states that TextDetective allows you to read, edit, or copy and paste the recognized text from the image that you take into other documents or e-mails, and to store it in a History tab. While the description states that the app works best with the iPhone 4S and is also useable with the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch, it cautions iPad users due to the difference in that device's camera placement.
TextDetective is relatively easy to use. The user holds the device in landscape mode with the "Home" button to the left. When the app loads, there are four tabs on the bottom of the screen: Scan, History, Tips, and Feedback. By default, the Scan tab is selected.
To use the app, align the "Home" button with the edge of a document, then lift the phone up until it's about 8 to10 inches away from the document. Double tap the "Start Scan" button. When TextDetective finds the document, the phone will vibrate. This can take a few seconds, especially with the iPhone 4, but VoiceOver will speak conversion progress messages as it's happening. Once the app has finished processing the document, a new screen will appear with the text. At the top right of the screen is a button which allows for reading the entire text or individual segments. Whatever has been scanned is automatically saved in the History tab.
The TextDetective app did best with the printed page. Like Prizmo, it also worked well with the magazine page, and though it performed better than Prizmo with books, it still needed several scans for each page. TextDetective showed the most difference between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S in processing speed, with the 4S giving a somewhat better scan.
By far, the best app of the three was TextDetective, with its solid performance and reasonable price. I do not recommend SayText as it had the least effective results by far.
For more information and to download these apps, use the following links:
SayText from the iTunes Store
Prizmo from the iTunes Store
The Prizmo Tutorial from AppleVis
TextDetective from the iTunes Store
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Section 508 Update
Fahrenheit 508: Why Current Federal Tech Access Policy is in Ashes
(Editor's note: In this piece, AFB Public Policy Director reviews a recent Justice Department report assessing implementation of Section 508, critiques its stark findings, and recommends next steps.)
Advocates have been boiling for years over the federal government's at best deliberate indifference to compliance with the section 508 requirement of the Rehabilitation Act, which states that electronic and information technology (E&IT) procured, developed, maintained, or used by federal agencies be accessible to people with disabilities. Frustrated federal employees with disabilities consistently report inability to use software and hardware that should be accessible to them but isn't, resulting in lost productivity and promotion. Even the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the federal agency merely charged with regularly reporting on the status of 508 implementation, has thoroughly neglected this responsibility since the 508 obligations took hold in 2001. Nevertheless, to, in part, commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in summer 2010 the Obama administration repeatedly voiced its commitment to embark on 508 strategic planning and to move the DOJ off the dime on reporting on 508 compliance. More than two years later and with the 508 strategic plan in tatters, we've finally seen the DOJ 508 report, and the results are startlingly predictable.
If you want to see for yourself each of the myriad statistics that the DOJ report describes, you're welcome to invest the considerable time it takes to slog through the report in its entirety at the DOJ webpage for the official Section 508 report. However, let me sum it up for you here. The first ideas to get out of your head are all the things the DOJ report is not. It is not an assessment of the real world experience of federal employees and members of the public with disabilities. It does not even assess whether the E&IT that federal agencies have deployed is, in fact, actually accessible in accordance with the law. The DOJ report is nothing more than a summary of a survey of federal bureaucrats, who may or may not be in positions of 508-relevant authority or who may or may not have thorough knowledge of the subject matter in question.
There's lots in the report about whether policies and staff are in place and lots of seemingly concrete data about the literally hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent, but no evidence that these policies, staff, and tax-payer dollars are having any real effect on the accessibility of government-purchased E&IT. Yes, a fair number of federal agencies have actually bothered to establish 508 policies and procedures, but have you ever heard of a federal agency that's doing a poor job of following its own policies and procedures? I thought so. Seriously, why should we be asked to assume that just because some things are committed to paper that, therefore, behavior is in fact changing? Putting it another way, how many government agencies do you have experience with that somehow manage to function successfully and efficiently simply by accident without elaborate policies, procedures, and a robust and competent bureaucracy?
Indeed, there's a lot more that we don't know and can't know from this survey and report, and it would appear that far too many of the survey's respondents don't fare much better themselves. Again and again, the DOJ itself remarks on the surprising number of "don't know" responses to questions about federal agencies' 508-related spending or even whether their agencies have a 508 compliance policy in the first place. Clearly, some of the survey respondents did have some authoritative knowledge of these matters. Some 35 agency components indicated that their spending on 508 is classified. Surely if steps had been taken to ensure that all survey respondents were the right people to ask, the incidence of "don't know" answers would be minimal.
Even if we were to grant that all those who actually completed the survey questions posed by the DOJ were thoroughly familiar with their agencies' 508 posture, the DOJ 508 report should set advocates on fire. If the survey respondents are to be believed, roughly half of the federal agencies assessed by the survey do not have formal 508 policies and procedures in place. Roughly, half do not have a clear chain of 508 command. Moreover, it isn't possible to get a feel from the DOJ published report for how complete a given agency's approach to 508 compliance is. For example, we still don't know whether those agencies that have a formal 508 policy and procedure in place also have a clearly identifiable 508 chain of command or if they just have one but not the other.
What the DOJ report tells us is that barely a majority of federal agencies are only succeeding (if that word is even appropriate at all) in doing two things with respect to 508 implementation. Federal agencies have papered and bureaucratized 508 nearly to death, and they're spending lots of our money without much demonstrable result. While none of the conclusions about the inefficiency of our federal government should be a news flash, these conclusions should light a fire under all of us to force some much needed changes to our government's implementation of 508.
Indeed, the DOJ itself makes a whole host of policy and procedural recommendations in its report that are modestly phrased but would pack quite a punch if implemented. The most telling of such recommendations is the call from the DOJ for more advanced testing of E&IT to determine the accessibility of a given item. Now, why didn't we think of that? A runner-up recommendation that DOJ makes is that agencies should abandon the fairly widespread practice of using generic 508 compliance criteria when evaluating a potential E&IT buy in favor of the application of those specific 508 requirements that are particularly relevant to the purchase under consideration. Putting these recommendations another way, agencies should not just believe industry assertions that products are accessible but should find out whether or not tax payer money is going to be spent in compliance with the law, and when doing so, agencies shouldn't just check whether a given product seems to work generally but if it serves the specific contextual purposes at hand. Now, there's a thought.
Interestingly, the DOJ report itself gives the lie to the proposition that federal agencies are powerless to correct these seemingly obvious failures. For example, the report suggests that a fair number of the medium-sized agencies surveyed had success at working with E&IT vendors to fix inaccessibility problems after purchase. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, the very large agencies seem to have the least success with this. Moreover, the DOJ asked whether agencies did, in fact, conduct 508 compliance testing prior to the purchase of E&IT, and a handful say they do. Agencies, therefore, are not barred from testing products before they buy them to see if their employees and customers with disabilities can use them, and no, fixing inaccessibility problems isn't so complicated and expensive that only the largest federal agencies can manage it. Why, then, don't more federal agencies step up to the plate, spend the vast sums they are currently spending with little measurable results on testing for accessibility and remedying problems discovered, and do right by people with disabilities both inside and outside of the government?
The answer is that neither we nor our national leaders in the White House or in Congress have sufficiently turned up the heat, and when the heat does get turned up, bureaucratic inertia evaporates. The case in point is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which recently announced that all of its existing waivers of 508 compliance on file for inaccessible technologies currently deployed are null and void. The VA declared that all E&IT must be validated for accessibility by the VA and compliant with 508 by January 1, 2013 and that any exceptions to this posture must be approved at the VA Assistant Secretary level. Can they pull this off? Time will tell, but what is clear is that the VA has assumed the kind of aggressive, get it done posture that has always been the letter and spirit of section 508 since its enactment way back in 1998. Why the 508 militancy by the VA now? In a word: politics. Recent relentless intervention by key members of Congress combined with the dogged day in and day out work of the VA's principal 508 officer, who happens to have a disability, has led to an unprecedented express commitment by a behemoth federal agency to turn rhetoric into reality. This is apparently the only option short of filing a mountain of complaints and law suits that will turn things around, or at least, we hope it will.
Yes, it would seem that much of the long-touted promise of Section 508 being the engine to transform technology industry behavior by harnessing the purchasing power of the federal government is in ashes. However, it also seems that if we stop suffocating each other with the hot air of our directionless outrage and, instead, blow on the embers of political pressure, the sparks that fly may just achieve ignition.
Overview of the Official Section 508 Report
Have a look at some of these results, which have been summarized from the original report:
- Failure to Establish 508 Policy: Only slightly more than fifty percent of agencies reported they established a formal, written policy to implement and comply with Section 508.
- No Institutionalized Resources: Nearly seventy percent of agencies had appointed a Section 508 coordinator, but only about thirty-five percent of them had established a Section 508 office or program. Another twenty-five percent of agency components (sub offices) did not establish an office or program but utilized their parent agency's Section 508 office or program.
- Few Accountable Staff: Agencies that established a Section 508 office or program reported assigning an average number of 2.5 full-time equivalent employees and allocated an average budget of $413,497 for their Section 508 office or program.
- What 508 Bureaucracies Do with Their Time: The most common reported service provided by Section 508 offices or programs was to evaluate the accessibility of websites. By contrast, the least common service provided by agencies' Section 508 office or program was to evaluate the accessibility of hardware.
- No Accountability for 508 Spending: Nearly seventy percent of agencies reported allocating or using resources to implement and comply with Section 508, but eighty-five percent of agencies reported not tracking their spending to implement and comply with Section 508.
- A Million Here and a Million There…: Agencies that tracked their spending reported an average budget or spending of $5,785,963 to implement and comply with Section 508. Across all agency size categories, the median budget or spending was $140,000 to implement and comply with Section 508.
- No Policies for Developing New Tech: Seventy-five percent of agencies reported developing software or web applications either in-house or by contractors. However, only about forty percent of these agencies reported establishing a policy to ensure the accessibility of software, including testing developed software for Section 508 compliance.
- No Policies for Agency-Produced New Media: Nearly seventy-one percent of agencies reported developing training or informational videos or multimedia productions either in-house or by contractors. However, only about thirty percent of them reported establishing a policy to ensure the accessibility of videos or multimedia productions, including testing developed videos or multimedia productions for Section 508 compliance.
- Software Access Neglected: Only about fifty-four percent of agencies or their sub offices reported establishing a policy to comply with the technical requirements for software. Twenty-four percent of them reported not establishing a policy and had no plans to establish a policy to comply with the technical requirements for software.
- Website Access Neglected: Only about sixty percent of agencies or their sub offices reported establishing a policy to comply with the technical requirements for websites. Twenty-three percent of agencies reported not establishing a policy and had no plans to establish a policy to comply with the technical requirements for websites.
- Telecomm Access Neglected: Only about forty-eight percent of agencies or their sub offices reported establishing a policy to comply with the technical requirements for telecommunication products. Nearly twenty-four percent of them reported not establishing a policy and had no plans to establish a policy to comply with the technical requirements for telecommunication products.
- Stand-Alone Equipment Access Neglected: Only about forty-three percent of agencies or their sub offices reported establishing a policy to comply with the technical requirements for self-contained, closed products (e.g., fax machines, photocopiers, etc.). Twenty-one percent of them reported not establishing a policy and had no plans to establish a policy to comply with the technical requirements for self-contained, closed products.
- Computer Access Neglected: Only fifty percent of agencies or their sub offices reported establishing a policy to comply with the technical requirements for desktop and portable computers. Twenty-seven percent of them reported no establishing a policy and had no plans to establish a policy to comply with the technical requirements for desktop and portable computers.
- No Due Diligence: Agencies most often relied on reviewing the materials the vendor submitted rather than actual product testing to validate Section 508 compliance.
- Failure to Keep Meaningful Records: Agencies most often conveyed their decisions regarding Section 508 applicability or exceptions on E&IT procurements in writing. However, only a small number of agencies have established formalized systems for tracking and documenting Section 508 decisions.
- Set Up for Failure: Nearly sixty percent of agencies reported not providing Section 508 training to their employees.
- Frontline Information and Technology (IT) Staff Most Out of the Loop: Agencies that did offer training reported providing the most average hours of training to Section 508 coordinators (a little more than four hours) and the fewest average hours of training to IT help desk staff (less than one hour).
- Fruit from the Poisonous Tree: Nearly forty percent of agencies that provided federal financial assistance reported not having any knowledge of whether or not recipients of federal financial assistance were required to ensure accessibility of websites and other E&ITs. Another twenty-four percent of agencies did not require recipients to ensure accessibility of websites and other E&ITs. Only thirty-five percent of agencies or their sub offices required recipients to ensure accessibility of websites and other E&ITs.
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Accessible Television for the Visually Impaired: Is It Only for the United Kingdom?
Two of the most popular speeches heard at both the National Federation of the Blind Conference in Dallas, TX, and the American Council of the Blind Conference in Louisville, KY, this past July were delivered by Richard Orme of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the United Kingdom. The topic of both speeches was television. In Dallas, his speech was aptly titled "The United Kingdom Scoops the US," which was an attention-getter for sure.
Here in the US, the big television news of late has, of course, been the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), a piece of legislation that became effective on July 1, 2012.
CVAA requires that ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC provide at least 50 hours per calendar quarter (about four hours per week) of video description for prime-time and/or children's programming. In addition to the requirements placed on these four commercial networks, five cable networks (Nickelodeon, Disney, TNT, TBS, and USA) are also required to provide up to fifty hours of programming accompanied by video description in each calendar quarter. Although it still only represents about four hours per week that each of the nine networks is mandated to include video description in its programing, this legislation represents a giant step forward for television viewers with vision loss in the United States.
Thus, recognizing that video description would be on the minds of his American listeners, Orme began his two lively speeches by telling his audiences about description on television in the UK. The term "audio description" has been adopted in the UK rather than "video description" as it is called here in the US, but the medium is the same: tight verbal descriptions between pauses and dialogue of those elements on the screen that are sufficiently visual that they may otherwise be missed by a viewer who is blind or has low vision.
Orme explained that, in the UK, some 69 television stations carry programming accompanied by audio description on a regular basis. Some of these stations boast as much as one-third of all programming being delivered with audio description. People in the UK love television, he said, including people who are blind, and they get lots of it!
Clearly, viewers in London have far more television options with description than people with vision loss in New York or Los Angeles. The centerpiece of Mr. Orme's news, however, was not the wonderful amount of television programing carrying description that is available but the accessibility of the television itself.
For the production of so many consumer electronics, from washing machines and ink jet printers to refrigerators and, particularly, televisions and TV-related equipment, manufacturers have been moving more and more toward inaccessible onscreen information and programing.
If you enjoy watching television (and many people with vision loss do), watching it without a sighted friend or family member in the room typically leads to some frustration. You can't determine which channel is playing. You can't read the menu to change the channel, volume, or program. You can't read the onscreen program guide, and you definitely can't record upcoming programs that you want to enjoy at a later time. When it comes to our newly celebrated bonanza in video-described programming, can we even, in fact, independently activate the extra channel carrying that additional audio material?
Thirty Accessible TV models
In collaboration with Panasonic, the largest manufacturer of consumer electronics worldwide, RNIB announced this year the availability of 30 different television models offering accessibility to customers who are blind or low vision throughout the UK. Using high-quality Nuance text-to-speech for what Panasonic is calling Voice Guidance, a TV viewer with vision loss can access onscreen information (taken for granted by sighted viewers) from the remote control. You can hear the name of the current channel. You can listen to the onscreen program guide. On models equipped for doing so, you can select programs to record for a later time. With the press of one dedicated button, you can easily activate an available audio description track.
This line of products, which Panasonic is calling Talking Viera, includes 30 models, ranging in screen size from 32-inch to 65-inch, and in price from $500 to $4,000 (roughly US $800 to US $6,300 ). Perhaps best of all, they are available at mainstream commercial television retailers.
RNIB customers can get instruction from RNIB volunteers, if needed, as well as a braille, large print, or audio CD set of instructions for operating one of the Talking Viera models.
Since Panasonic headquarters is in Japan, people with vision loss in that country have a similar range of accessible televisions and Blu-ray players as well.
What about the United States?
Tony Jasionowski, senior group manager of accessibility for Panasonic, says that while there is certainly interest in providing TV accessibility to customers in the US, the issue is complicated on both economic and technological levels. First, Panasonic experienced a $10 Billion loss in early 2012. While the company has long been committed to making all its products accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities (vision, hearing, and orthopedic), the reality is that developing a line of products like the Talking Viera television models is not an inexpensive venture. In addition to the obvious research, development, and testing associated with the project, there is the licensing of the Nuance text-to-speech voices for the Panasonic Voice Guidance features.
The different ways in which television broadcasts are delivered in the US and the UK, however, poses perhaps even greater complications. The majority of television viewers in the US receive their programs via cable or satellite services. The onscreen menus are controlled by those companies and are manipulated through your set-top box rather than through the TV itself. In the UK and Japan, most homes receive their television broadcasts through what might be called over-the-air or terrestrial broadcasts.
In short, a Panasonic television that brings all of those lovely spoken features into the living room of a person with vision loss in London wouldn't work in the living room of a person who is blind or low vision in Chicago.
Panasonic is in the television business but not in the cable business. The obvious solution for access in the US, of course, would be for the cable and satellite companies to address the issue as Panasonic has done.
Tony Jasionowski said that he has, in fact, been in some dialogue with cable companies regarding the addition of text-to-speech capabilities to their equipment, clearly indicating that all hope is not lost in that direction.
Meanwhile, although Panasonic is in a phase of cost reduction rather than product addition or enhancement, the company's interest and commitment to universal design is genuine. Jasionowski indicated that accessible televisions (and such related equipment as DVD and Blu-ray players) remain a high priority in Panasonic's future.
Of course, the remaining question on all our minds is: when?
For more information on the availability of Talking Viera television models in the UK, visit the RNIB website.
Visit the Panasonic accessibility website for more information on other accessible products created by Panasonic.
For more information on newly added programs with video description in the United States, visit the FCC website or the individual websites of the nine affected television networks.
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The AFB Optics Lab
The AFB Small Visual Display Project: Contrast Sensitivity
In the last issue of AccessWorld, we reintroduced the AFB Small Visual Display (SVD) Project based in the AFB Tech Optics Lab. One of the main research goals of that project is to better understand the needs of the human visual system regarding contrast in SVDs. While contrast (the difference between the light and the dark parts of an image) is a good starting point, it alone does not fully describe the relationship between the emitter (a display) and the receptor (the user) because a single contrast measurement does not account for all of the information within an image. A more complete measurement of this relationship is an image quality metric that factors in the display ability of a display to produce contrast at different spatial frequencies, and an individual's ability to perceive those frequencies in the image.
Contrast sensitivity, or the level of contrast required for a person to perceive a change in an image, is an issue that affects everyone with any vision. As we age, our contrast sensitivity degrades significantly even if there is no specifically diagnosed pathology. Aggravating the problem is that most vision care specialists focus on visual acuity, rather than contrast sensitivity. While visual acuity is a good metric for image clarity, it leaves out important information about contrast. This can lead to the scenario of an optometrist insisting that a person should be able to read a particular size font based only on that person's visual acuity number while, in actuality, the individual's contrast sensitivity is too low for reading to be possible.
In this article, we will discuss possible solutions to the problems described above. We will explain the Contrast Sensitivity Function and how it can be used in conjunction with display measurements to produce an image quality metric, which can be used to predict the usability of a device by an individual.
The Contrast Sensitivity Function
Just as the visual acuity number doesn't fully describe a person's visual capability, a single contrast measurement doesn't fully describe a display's capabilities. A complete representation of vision includes contrast sensitivity at multiple spatial frequencies. A spatial frequency can be thought of as the width of a series of repeating black and white bars. Wide bars are low frequencies because there are fewer bars in a given amount of space, and thin bars are high frequencies because there are more of them in the same amount of space. An image is actually composed of a combination of hundreds of frequencies multiplied together.
The Contrast Sensitivity Function (CSF) describes how much contrast (the darkness of the black and lightness of the white) is required for a person to see objects, text, and images. Someone with higher contrast sensitivity at a particular frequency can perceive the bars at that frequency at lower contrast levels. In other words, the bars could be different shades of gray, and the person could still see them. CSF is usually measured at six different spatial frequencies (or six different bar widths), ranging from high to low. This provides us with much more information about the individual's actual visual capabilities rather than one number alone. Humans typically are able to see mid-range frequencies more easily than higher or lower frequencies. However, not all people see different frequencies the same, so each individual needs to be mapped to his or her own contrast sensitivity function.
Because the concepts we've been discussing can be difficult to understand, AFB Tech built a CSF simulator that takes an image or video feed and applies a filter that shows what the image would look like to a person with a reduced CSF. The CSF simulator is an educational tool that serves different purposes for different audiences. The simulator can be a compelling tool to demonstrate the effect of a reduced CSF on an individual's ability to see and use everyday items, which is helpful to family members or caretakers. It's also highly effective to place a company's product under the CSF simulator to demonstrate display performance as part of a presentation to that company.
The following series of images are examples of how CSF affects the appearance of an image.
Caption: The display of a blood glucose monitor.
This image, a blood glucose monitor displaying a reading, is straight from a camera with ideal lighting and focus. For a fully sighted person, the image is sharp, and the letters are easy enough to read. We will use this image as a reference. The following images demonstrate the effects of removing various frequencies.
Caption: Reference image as above with high frequencies only.
In this example, we've filtered the image to show only high spatial frequencies so that we can see what information these frequencies contain. High frequencies, or narrow line widths, are responsible for the fine detail in an image. High frequencies define the sharpness of edges. In the example image, we see the outline of all of the sharp-edged shapes in the image, but the larger characters are not filled in. This is because the majority of the large characters (excluding the sharp edges) are made up of a lower frequency. If these large characters had fuzzy edges in the original image, they would not show up here at all.
Caption: Reference image with mid-range frequencies only.
This image has been filtered so that only spatial frequencies in the middle-range of human contrast sensitivity are present. This image looks blurry, but we can see all of the letters with the exception of the bottom row of small characters. The bottom row doesn't show up well because the character strokes are too high frequency (or narrow) for the mid-range frequencies that are isolated.
Unlike the last image with only high frequencies, the characters in this image have fuzzy edges but are totally filled. This illustrates what these two ranges of frequencies do: high frequencies define edges and mid-range frequencies fill in larger sections (like character strokes) that change more gradually. For large text like the characters on this display, these mid-range frequencies provide most of the contrast that we use to read. High frequencies only fill in details.
Caption: Reference image with low frequencies only.
This example doesn't look like much, but there is information in it. It's difficult to see, but there are black smudges in this image where characters are in the reference image. Low frequencies contain details about the background of the text and also contribute some to the contrast of characters. The background on this image looks most like the background on the reference image.
Caption: Reference image with a realistic reduced CSF applied.
The last example using the CSF is a realistic CSF for an individual in his or her 80s. As we age, our contrast sensitivity degrades naturally, especially at higher frequencies. This example was created using data from a study of CSFs based on age. All of the frequencies have been reduced in this image with higher frequencies being reduced the most. The image appears a little grayer overall, which is caused by the low frequency reduction, and the high frequency reduction causes the edges to be fuzzier.
Application of the CSF
Contrast Sensitivity provides a more complete description of what a person is able to perceive based on many spatial frequencies, and is an important concept for understanding how vision works. We believe that CSF is not being used in mainstream vision care to its fullest potential.
While CSF is an extremely useful tool for characterizing a person's vision, it's also an important measurement for the display work being done in the AFB Tech Optics Lab. There is a similar measurement to the CSF for displays called the Modulation Transfer Function (MTF), which we can measure to characterize how well a display works, much like a vision care specialist can use CSF to characterize a person's vision. The MTF simply measures how well a display produces contrast at different spatial frequencies. Displays achieve a maximum level of contrast at low spatial frequencies with a gradual decline leading to a sharp drop-off in contrast as frequency increases.
We can use the CSF and MTF together to calculate how visible an image is for an individual. This is called an image quality metric, and we believe we can use this number to make a prediction as to how well a person will be able to use a display. Though CSF is not widely measured at this time, it's conceivable that someday people will be able to receive personalized display recommendations from their vision care specialists based on this measurement.
In the meantime, AFB Tech is working to develop a rating scale system that takes into consideration all of the data we measure from the displays we test. This rating scale won't be perfect, but it will give users a better idea of how a display will perform than contrast alone. Look for an article in the November issue of AccessWorld for more information about this rating scale and an announcement about the SVD database!
If you would like more information on the CSF simulator, contact William Reuschel at AFB Tech.
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New Federal Program Set to Distribute Communications Technology to People with Vision and Hearing Loss
Perkins School for the Blind, Helen Keller National Center, and FableVision Will Lead the iCanConnect Campaign
Many thousands of Americans who have combined loss of hearing and vision may soon connect with family, friends, and community thanks to the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program. Mandated by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established this new program to provide support for the local distribution of a wide array of accessible communications technology.
The FCC is also funding a national outreach campaign to educate the public about this new program. The iCanConnect campaign will be conducted jointly by Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, the Helen Keller National Center in New York City, NY, and FableVision of Boston, MA. iCanConnect will seek to ensure that everyone knows about the free communications technology and training that is now available to low-income individuals with combined hearing and vision loss. From screen enlargement software and video phones to off-the shelf products that are accessible or adaptable, this technology can vastly improve their quality of life.
iCanConnect seeks to increase awareness about the availability of communications technology for this underserved population, so people who are deaf-blind and have limited income can remain safe and healthy, hold jobs, manage their households, and contribute to the economy and the community.
As of August 7, 2012, information about the new equipment distribution program will be available online at the iCanConnect website or by phone at 800-825-4595. Additional information is available through the online FCC Encyclopedia.
"With the right technology, people with disabilities can link to information and ideas, be productive, and move ahead," said Steven Rothstein, President of Perkins. "Perkins' most famous student, Helen Keller, exemplified the potential of a person who is deaf-blind. We are proud to have a role in this transformational program."
The CVAA, championed in Washington, DC by Congressman Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, acknowledges that advances in technology can revolutionize lives. Nearly one million people in the United States have some combination of vision and hearing loss. People with combined loss of vision and hearing as defined by the Helen Keller National Center Act whose income does not exceed 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible to participate in the new program.
"The mission of the Helen Keller National Center is to enable each person who is deaf-blind to live and work in his or her community of choice," explains Executive Director Joe McNulty, adding, "This critical technology access program accelerates those efforts, but only if people know about the resources. iCanConnect is poised to get the word out, coast to coast."
"FableVision's mission is to help ALL learners reach their full potential," said Paul Reynolds, CEO of FableVision Studios. "With this program we advance that mission, helping spread the word about equal access to tools that offer those with hearing and vision loss the transformational power of technology." Reynolds adds, "Now everyone is invited to the technology promise powering the human network."
Tell the FCC to Say NO to Inaccessible Gaming and Communications Technologies
A while back, lobbyists representing the highly lucrative gaming technology industry filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking a formal waiver from any requirement stemming from the landmark 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which ensures that key communications features included in gaming technologies, such as text chat and other forms of electronic, will be accessible.
While the CVAA does permit the FCC to grant waivers in those instances where specific technologies may be both designed and marketed for primary purposes other than the kinds of communication contemplated in the new law, the FCC is, nevertheless, completely within its authority to refuse to grant waivers for such technologies.
There are signs that the FCC may be generally sympathetic to the interest of people with disabilities in accessible gaming technologies that incorporate various kinds of communication. However, it has recently come to our attention that the FCC may be under the impression that people with vision loss themselves are not particularly interested in the accessibility of gaming technologies.
Advocates should set them straight.
Send a brief e-mail today to Karen Peltz Strauss, Deputy Bureau Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, FCC.
In your short, polite, but firm message, tell the FCC how you feel about the ability of people who are blind or visually impaired to fully use the most popular gaming technologies on the market today. Remind the FCC that the growing popularity of gaming technologies in public schools to foster learning, the use of gaming technologies to increase movement and exercise, and the overall impact of gaming technologies to bring people together means that the accessibility of such technologies must not be thrown under the bus. Indeed, if the communications features of such technologies remain inaccessible, children, adults, and seniors with vision loss will continue to be shut out of full participation in schools and the community and will not be able to take advantage of the enjoyment and benefits afforded by such technologies.
Astoundingly, the industry representatives arguing for the waiver say that waiving the accessibility requirements of the new law is necessary to allow industry the maximum opportunity to innovate and thereby build on their alleged track records of success meeting the access needs of people with disabilities.
Tell the FCC what you think of the kind of technological innovation that routinely leaves behind people with vision loss while the industry brags about its past access accomplishments but, at the same time, seeks legal maneuvers, like the proposed waiver, to shirk their responsibilities.
The FCC is expected to act very soon on the proposed waiver, so send your message to the FCC today!
For further information, contact:
Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
U-verse Easy Remote iPhone Application Description and Features
The U-verse Easy Remote is a free iPhone app optimized for the disability and senior communities. This app is designed to assist and enhance the U-verse TV experience for individuals who are blind or low vision, deaf or hard of hearing, or possess low physical dexterity. It has been specifically developed with accessibility standards to work with the U-verse receiver and allow full control of the channel navigation with a gesture pad, by voice command, or via single touch access to closed captioning. In addition, there are two settings for font size and multiple color themes to maximize the display based on need or preference.
- Free download via iTunes store
- Large button access to Remote Control for U-verse TV
- Voice commands and search capabilities for shows airing currently
- Multiple options for text and color to accommodate various needs
- Supports Voice Over capability on iOS devices
AFB Press Expands ePublications Offerings to Customers
AFB Press has expanded its digital offerings to better meet the needs of students and professionals who have asked for on-demand information that can be read with a variety of e-readers, tablets, and assistive technology devices.
All accessible ASCII files of AFB Press publications can be downloaded immediately after purchase. In the past, ASCII titles were sold on CD-ROM and shipped to the customer.
AFB Press is also beginning to offer its publications in different e-book formats. Users can choose between ePUB or MOBI (Kindle) formats, allowing access on mainstream e-readers. Currently, the publication Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn: Teaching Listening Skills to Student with Visual Impairments is available in the AFB Bookstore as an e-book. More e-books will be added to the AFB Bookstore as well as to the iBooks, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble online stores as soon as they can be converted.
The ASCII and e-book files are available at a 30 percent lower cost than their print counterparts.
AFB Press has long been a leader in providing accessible digital files of publications through its ePublications offerings and in developing accessible delivery systems for online products.
Call for 2013 Access Awards Nominations
AFB invites nominations for the 2013 Access Awards. The Access Awards honor the individuals, corporations, and organizations that eliminate or substantially reduce inequities faced by people who are blind or visually impaired. Nominations for the AFB Access Awards should illustrate an exceptional and innovative effort that has improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired by enhancing access to information, the environment, technology, education, or employment, including making mainstream products and services accessible. Letters of nomination should be e-mailed no later than Monday, October 29, 2012, to Joe Strechay, AFB, 2013 Access Awards Committee. For additional information, read the full press release.
Turner Classic Movies Dedicates October to People with Disabilities
Inclusion in the Arts, an advocacy and consulting organization that works towards full diversity in theatre, film, television, and related media, has teamed up with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to host a film series in October called "The Projected Image: The History of Disability in Film."
The series features more than 20 films ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s. Each night's collection will explore particular aspects, themes, or types of disability, such as those with blindness, deafness, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities, amputees, and wheelchair users. In addition, one full evening of programming (Oct. 9) will focus on newly disabled veterans returning home from war. TCM will present every film in the series with closed captioning and audio description (via secondary audio) for audience members with auditory and visual disabilities.
Check with TCM and your local station for schedules and times.
Cinemark Theaters Announces Installation of Accessibility Equipment
Cinemark Theaters recently announced that audio description equipment is being installed on a rolling basis in its theaters across the United States. All Cinemark Theaters in California already offer audio description (also referred to as video description and descriptive narration). Cinemark will be offering audio description at all of its first-run theaters (over 98% of the company's theaters nationwide) by mid-2013. Read the full press release for more information.
The Cinemark initiative is the result of structured negotiations with the California Council of the Blind and several Cinemark patrons with visual impairments.
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Letters to the Editor
AccessNote App Release Postponed
Dear AccessWorld Editor,
This letter is in response to J.J. Meddaugh's October 2012 article entitled "A Step Forward for Accessible Textbooks: A Review of the STudent E-rent Pilot Project".
I just wanted to say how glad I was to hear about this program. The more choices we have for access to college textbooks, the better it is. I can also sadly relate to the author's college experiences as the disabled student services office where I went to graduate school was slow and did not understand my needs. I would have done better on my own and avoided a layer of bureaucracy.
I will be certain to share the information in his article with the college students I know. Again, thanks for the useful information.
Dear AccessWorld Editor,
I have been hearing about the note taking app being developed by AFB, and I read in a previous issue of AccessWorld that the app would be available at the end of the summer. I understand it is not yet available. Do you have any new information as to when the app will be available?
Answer from AccessWorld Editor:
Thank you very much for this great question and for your interest in THE AFB AccessNote app. Originally, there were plans to launch the app in early September with support for wireless QWERTY keyboards and, then, add full support for braille displays with version 1.1 later this fall. However, after getting some great feedback from AccessWorld readers, blind testers, and advisors across the country, it was decided that full braille support would be included from the beginning. That work was just finished and is now being tested, so everything should be equaled for QWERTY and braille users. Creating the user guide is the next step, and the launch is now planned, hopefully, for November. The AccessNote development team thinks note taker users will really like the app, and they think it will have significant added value over commercial note taking apps.
Lee Huffman, AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief
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