State and Federal Sites Scrutinized
State and federal web sites were recently analyzed in terms of disability accessibility standards by a public policy watchdog and a consumer group. In Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy's fourth annual Internet readability survey, which scrutinized 1,600 state and 60 federal web sites, 47% of federal and 33% of state web sites met the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) accessibility standards <www.w3.org>. Researchers discovered only 22% of federal and 24% of state web sites meet the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. On the bright side, a customer survey report compiled by ForeSee Results and the University of Michigan suggested that a handful of the 22 government web sites analyzed earned customer satisfaction scores on par with those of popular private-sector sites. The top-scoring federal site is the National Women's Health
Information Center's <www.4women.gov>. Other highly ranked federal sites include NASA's <www.nasa.gov>, the Agriculture Department's <www.ers.usda.gov>, and the General Services Administration's <www.firstgov.gov>. (Source: Government Computer News and The Washington Post.)
Verification Tests Pose Access Problems
According to a CNET News.com article by Paul Festa (available: <http://zdnet.com.com/21001104_21022814.html>), online identity verification tests are posing accessibility problems for people who are visually impaired. Designed to stop computer programs from creating new web-based e-mail accounts for the purpose of launching spam, the tests require new users to respond to visual verification questions in order to access services. Yahoo!, Microsoft, and VeriSign currently use the tests, although Yahoo! and Microsoft offer work-arounds for people with visual impairments. The work-arounds do not always grant immediate access to services. VeriSign currently provides no alternative to its visual verification tests. According to the article, two World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative work groups are working on recommendations for accessible verification tests. A solution is expected to be offered in version 2.0 of its Web Accessibility Guidelines, which will be available by the end of 2003.
Free Course in Choosing a Computer
The Hadley School for the Blind offers the course, Access Technology: Beginnings, which is designed to help people with visual impairments or their families decide which hardware, software, and access technology would best suit their computing needs. The free distance education course features four lessons that describe the components of a typical PC system, offer steps for selecting PC access technology, suggest solutions for financing the purchase of equipment, and provide a list of technology companies. For more information, contact: Student Services, Hadley School for the Blind; phone: 800-526-9909 or 847-446-8111; web site: <www.hadley-school.org>.
New Scan-and-Read Software
Kurzweil Education Systems recently released Version 8 of its Kurzweil 1000 scanning and reading software. The new features include two new VoiceText voices, one male and one female, for text-to-speech reading; expanded online research and file retrieval that allows users to search for online magazines and e-books; a full-function talking scientific calculator; and additional support for transferring documents to portable devices like PAC Mate and BookCourier. People who purchase Kurzweil 1000 Version 8 will receive a $40 discount on the BookCourier, a handheld device by Springer Design for listening to electronic text, recorded voice files, and audio files. BookCourier sells for $379. The Kurzweil 1000 Version 8 costs $995. A $100 discount is available on full versions of the reader purchased before December 15, 2003. Upgrades to Version 8 cost $95. For more information, contact: Kurzweil Education Systems; phone: 800-894-5374, extension 603, or 781-276-0600; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.kurzweiledu.com/products_k1000.asp>.
New Digital Talking Book Player
In September 2003, VisuAide released the Victor Reader Classic Plus, its latest Digital Talking Book (DAISY) player. The Reader Classic Plus is a redesign of the Victor Reader Classic and was crafted in response to customer feedback. The new device includes a sturdier CD slot drive, a carrying handle, higher-contrast buttons, a full numeric keypad, longer battery life, and higher-quality speakers. Like its predecessor, the Classic Plus offers the basic navigation features like browsing the table of contents and skipping from section to section or from page to page. The cost is $375. For more information, contact: VisuAide; phone: 888-723-7273 or 819-471-4818; e-mail: <email@example.com>.
The 4.5 Standard and Professional versions of GW Micro's screen reader, Window-Eyes, recently began shipping. One of version 4.5's new features is its revamped Internet interface. Upgrades range in cost from $100 to $150. Window-Eyes 4.5 is the first screen reader to offer remote interactive access to Citrix's MetaFrame XP, Microsoft Terminal Services, and Microsoft Remote Desktop's presentation server environments. For more information, contact: GW Micro; phone: 260-489-3671; web site: <www.gwmicro.com>.
Members of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) can join the Digital Credit Union (DCU) and obtain loans for the purchase of access equipment—that is, any product, device, or building modification designed to assist someone with a disability. Loans ranging from $1,500 to $25,000 or more can be borrowed for up to 72 months with no downpayment, and the borrower need not be the beneficiary of the purchase. A one-year AAPD membership costs $20. For more information, contact: AAPD; phone: 866-241-3200; web site: <www.aapd.com>. DCU; phone: 800-328-8797; web site: <www.dcu.org>.
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