November 2002 Issue  Volume 3  Number 6

Editor's Page

As I reviewed this issue—including two articles focusing on braille—I thought about my own recent increased use of braille. I have read more braille documents and books and magazines in the last year than in any year in recent memory, and I have not brailled any of them for myself on a braille printer. I upload meeting materials, articles, memos, magazines, and books to my BrailleNote for reading or editing, and I e-mail meeting notes and edited articles to colleagues.

Personal organizers with increased memory, combined with sources of electronic braille files such as Web-Braille (discussed below) and Bookshare (>), have given people who are blind or visually impaired access to a vast amount of information in a very portable form. We can carry several braille books on our daily commutes, on business or pleasure trips, and to doctors' offices. College students can review discussion materials in class along with sighted classmates.

It is not quite time to abandon paper and read all braille material electronically. Children need to develop strong braille reading skills and learn about page format without being distracted by the details of operating a machine at the same time. However, the high price of producing braille decreases significantly if you eliminate the expense and time required to emboss, bind, and ship books and magazines. I encourage braille readers, teachers, and administrators to consider the option of electronic braille files whenever possible.

Lynn Zelvin, independent assistive technology trainer and web site designer, evaluates the Porta-Thiel sold by Sighted Electronics and Freedom Scientific's Braille Blazer, two "low-cost" braille printers. With price tags of $2,895 and $1,895, respectively, they certainly are not cheap, but they actually are two of the least expensive braille embossers on the market. Zelvin puts them through their paces and reports on documentation, ease of use, the ability to use multiple languages or set printing parameters, printing speed, and braille quality. If you are in the market for a braille printer for home, office, or school use, check out this review of two candidates for the job.

Darren Burton, National Program Associate in Technology, AFB Tech, and Mark Uslan review the usability of four accessible voting machines. In future elections, paper ballots will be replaced by ballots displayed on computer screens, and votes will be counted automatically. For voters who are blind or visually impaired, the touch screens must be replaced by speech output and/or large print, as well as usable controls. The authors evaluated each machine for speech quality, clarity of instructions to the voter, user control of font size and contrast, tactile identification and labeling of controls, and the ability to access information both visually and aurally. Find out which machine earns our vote for providing voting that is both secret and verifiable.

Deborah Kendrick interviews Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS.) Dixon is an outspoken, tireless advocate for braille literacy, an expert in the use and benefits of assistive technology, and the developer of, and driving force behind, Web-Braille—a service that places translated braille files of books and magazines on the web for download by NLS patrons to be read on braille notetakers and computers. Over 2,300 people are registered Web-Braille users and have access to newly transcribed books and their favorite magazines—including PC World, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Science News and Ladies' Home Journal—long before other NLS patrons receive paper braille in the mail.

Lynn Zelvin provides an overview of search engines. This article describes two different types of search engines and presents basic strategies for working with them. If the web has taken you on a frustrating trip to Catalonia and the Catskills on the way to answering your questions about cat care, this article will provide strategies for taking charge of an incredibly powerful resource.

Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief

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