January 2004 Issue  Volume 5  Number 1

Editor's Page

Welcome to the first web-only issue of AccessWorld, the American Foundation for the Blind's (AFB) technology magazine. AccessWorld began publication as a subscription-based magazine in five formats: large print, braille, cassette, ASCII disk and online in January 2000. Our decision to eliminate the subscription and change to a web magazine was driven by our desire to reach as many people as possible with the timely information we offer. Objective evaluations of both assistive technology and the accessibility of mainstream products are the centerpiece of AccessWorld. This is the place to read unbiased reviews of screen readers, screen magnifiers, optical character recognition (OCR) systems, video magnifiers, personal data assistants (PDAs), cell phones, electronic voting machines, music production software, and more.

All of our previous issues are available for your perusal here. You can use our "e-mail this article to a friend" link to share what you read here. You can print your own copy using our "printer-ready" option. The "braille embosser-ready" files have been translated and formatted and can be sent immediately to a braille embosser or loaded into a PDA such as the BrailleNote or PAC Mate. You can sign up to receive announcements when new issues are posted, as well as to receive AccessWorld Extra, the e-mail update that we send out in the six months in which AccessWorld is not published. Be sure to bookmark this page and tell anyone who uses assistive technology, or needs to make decisions about purchasing it, about AccessWorld.

In This Issue

In this first web-only issue, Deborah Kendrick interviews five employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who are blind or visually impaired. She spoke with a manager of projects on energy utilization and weather prediction; a research chemist with a specialty in quantum mechanics; a database administrator; a web accessibility coordinator; and a mathematician. NASA has an agency-wide commitment to hiring people with disabilities, including programs targeting high school students with disabilities and paid summer college internships. Read about how five people using a menagerie of technology contribute to the fascinating work done at NASA.

Janina Sajka, Director of Information Systems Research at AFB, and I provide two articles on Digital Talking Book technology. The first describes the development of the Digital Audio-based Information System (DAISY) format, explains how features available in DAISY books will revolutionize reading for people who are blind or visually impaired, and tells you where to find DAISY books currently in the United States. We also document the hoops you must jump through, intended to safeguard publishers' copyrights, in order to read DAISY books. Bookshare.org requires members to "unpack" downloaded files using software available from their site and enter a password once before having unlimited access to a book. However, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) has instituted more stringent security measures that some users may find somewhat onerous and that go beyond what publishers require. RFB&D will only allow their DAISY books to be played on players that RFB&D has approved, which also have an Intellectual Property Protection key installed. You must purchase a player from RFB&D or ship a player bought elsewhere to RFB&D and pay a fee to have this key installed. You must enter your personal identification number the first time you attempt to read an RFB&D book after you turn the player on. Users are also required to sign a copyright agreement.

Our second article reviews four stand-alone DAISY book players available in the United States--the Victor Reader Classic Plus and Victor Reader Vibe from VisuAide, the Telex Scholar, and Plextor's PTR1 player/recorder. We give a physical description of each player, cover its functions, time how long each player takes to access both DAISY and music CDs, and give our overall opinion and ratings of each player.

Jerry Weichbrodt, Senior Project Engineer at General Motors in Detroit, evaluates the accessibility of AOL 9.0 with JAWS for Windows 5.0. AOL has made a major commitment to improving accessibility, and its staff has worked with screen reader manufacturers, with more progress having currently been made with JAWS. This article tests AOL installation, getting help, the log-on screen, e-mail, web browsing, instant messaging, the address book, and parental controls. There are still access problems throughout AOL, but huge strides have been made from a start as a totally inaccessible product which jammed several applications into one on-screen window. More needs to be done, but it is no longer necessary to tell a person who is blind to avoid using AOL.

Darren Burton and Mark Uslan of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluate the Nokia 9290, a combination cell phone and personal digital assistant (PDA). Most of this device's functions are made accessible by installing TALKS text-to-speech software from Brand & Gröber Communications. The Nokia 9290's size (weighing 8.7 ounces and measuring 6.2 by 2.2 by 1.0 inches), and price ($795 with TALKS installed), are hefty. Nevertheless, it is the most accessible phone that we have tested so far.

Bryan Gerritsen, a low vision therapist practicing in Utah, reviews two video magnifiers: the Merlin by Enhanced Vision Systems and the Prisma by Ash Technologies. He highlights each product's strengths and weaknesses as well as its unique features. Find out if one of these machines is right for you.

Dr. James A. Kutsch, Jr., vice president of technology for a global leader in outsourced customer service and billing, writes about low-power FM transmitters for use in your home or car. An FM radio transmitter can be connected to the audio out or headphone jack of almost any device, including a PC sound card, Talking Book player, MP3 player, or tape recorder. The audio is transmitted to any nearby FM radio receiver. Read about some devices that will let you listen to music or sporting events on the web while you prepare dinner or sit in the sun.

We invite your comments and suggestions about AccessWorld's exciting transition to the web.

Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief

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