Training in such skills as braille and use of assistive technology is essential for both children and adults who are blind or visually impaired to participate in society and to find and hold a job. A braille reader has direct access to the spelling of new words, page format, and the ability to study and absorb tabular information; and computers can provide access to an inexhaustible amount of information on endless topics. But, whereas Microsoft designed Windows to be intuitive for sighted users, there is a much steeper learning curve for a person who is blind or visually impaired. Screen reader users must learn a whole new vocabulary, usually reserved for Windows programmers, to translate what the screen reader says into what options are available at that moment. Training and practice are required to be able to translate "edit box" into "I can type text here," or "combo box" into "Arrow down until I find the item I want."
To focus on the critical shortage of training personnel available to teach essential skills, this issue of
features three articles related to training. Frances Mary D'Andrea, director of the American Foundation for the Blind National Literacy Center in Atlanta and AFB's representative on the board of the Braille Authority of North America, evaluates Speech Assisted Learning (SAL). This freestanding device is designed to help children and adults who are learning to read braille practice their skills by using speech to give feedback to the user during lessons. D'Andrea describes SAL's functions and performance and provides an expert's explanation of how useful SAL can be, as long as it is viewed as a teaching tool, rather than a replacement for a living, caring braille teacher.
Deborah Kendrick writes about GW Micro's new traveling training classes offering basic and intermediate instruction in the use of their screen reader, Window-Eyes. This article chronicles how one company is tackling the shortage of qualified trainers.
Joe Lazzaro, director of the Adaptive Technology Program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind in Boston and a freelance writer, provides an introduction to the built-in scripting or programming language for Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows. JAWS scripts allow you to make mainstream applications appear more speech friendly and accessible. A script is a series of instructions carried out in sequence, and can be used, for example, to build hot keys to read any part of the screen, or to move to parts of an application not navigable using keyboard commands.
In other articles, Darren Burton and Mark Uslan of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), continue their search for accessible cell phones by reviewing the Nokia 3650 combined with the Mobile Accessibility software produced by the European company Code Factory. This software can assist a person who is blind or visually impaired in accessing some of the phone's features via keystrokes and synthetic speech output. Unfortunately, Mobile Accessibility does not provide full access to the phone's features. Check out what you can get by paying twice as much for the phone/software combination as a sighted customer would pay for the phone alone.
I report on an audio tour offered by the New York Hall of Science, located in Corona Park, New York, a hands-on science museum. Traditionally, museums have not been pleasant places to visit for people who are blind or visually impaired. Exhibits were behind glass, descriptions were not available in accessible formats and lighting was poor. The Hall of Science has led the way toward changing that, first with tours on audiotape, then with digitized descriptions which visitors listen to on a solid-state unit resembling an elongated cordless phone. Next will be an experimental system that will not only describe the exhibits, but will also guide visitors from one exhibit to another. Read more about the system I tried out on an August day that was even too hot for the microorganisms under glass in the exhibits.
Annemarie Cooke, Senior External Relations Officer at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, writes about the development and installation of talking ATMs by JP Morgan Chase & Co. The machines were a product of collaboration between Chase and AFB's AccessWorld Solutions.
This issue marks the last time that braille, large print, cassette, and disk versions of AccessWorldwill be distributed. The January issue, which will be available free on the Web, will be a new beginning for. This change will enable us to bring our product evaluations and other articles to many more people. The Web will also give us the freedom to present news and other features to our readers in ways that are not possible across five different formats. I thank you all for making the commitment of subscribing to AccessWorld, and I expect to keep hearing from you about future issues. I want to thank everyone who has been involved in production of the different formats, especially Suzanne Toren, the voice of the cassette edition.
Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief
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