March 2004 Issue  Volume 5  Number 2

Editor's Page

When we use the phrase "assistive technology," we often make the mistake of thinking of a narrow range of computer-related products. More and more in this digital world, however, people who are blind or visually impaired need access to an increasing variety of inaccessible devices. It is true that the market for screen readers, screen magnifiers and accessible PDAs (personal digital assistants) is relatively small. Yet, when you tour the exhibit hall at an assistive technology conference, you are surrounded by booths of companies selling these products.

These companies can hope to sell thousands, maybe tens of thousands of their products to computer users. A much larger population, the 5 million diabetics in the United States experiencing vision loss, is a group that is not having its needs met. In "Managing Diabetes with a Visual Impairment" September 2002, AccessWorld reviewed blood glucose monitors The results showed that much needs to be done to provide equal access to testing equipment for diabetics who are blind. We revisit the topic of diabetes management in this issue, and find insulin pumps even more inaccessible. Where are the advocates and consumer groups on this issue? Why is this market of millions of people being shut out of managing their illness?

Darren Burton, Craig Swisher, and Mark Uslan of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluate the accessibility of insulin pumps for diabetics who are blind or visually impaired. Diabetes is a rapidly growing epidemic affecting nearly 17 million people in the United States, nearly a third of whom have vision problems, with annual costs estimated to be $132 billion. An insulin pump can only be issued by an endocrinologist and, because of the complexity involved, must be used in close conjunction with that endocrinologist and a certified diabetes educator. Insulin is delivered around the clock as needed in a more effective and less invasive way, rather than by separate injections. The use of insulin pumps is growing rapidly in the general population. Find out how inaccessible these devices are, and what our evaluators recommend for people who are blind who may benefit from using them.

If you are a screen reader user, you have probably had trouble navigating a web site in the last few days or hours. Crista Earl and Elizabeth Neal, Web Content Manager at AFB, write about how to create accessible web forms, one of the most difficult parts of web design. From searching for information to purchasing products, it is hard to accomplish anything online without filling out and submitting a form. This article covers designing forms logically, labeling controls, keyboard accessibility, tables, the evils of using radio buttons, and more. The next time you want to write to a web site designer to complain about how difficult it is to use a particular site, this article will allow you to explain what changes need to be made.

I survey the web sites of the candidates vying for this year's Democratic presidential nomination. The web played a major role in news stories leading up to the first primaries, especially Howard Dean's use of it to raise money and attract interest to his campaign. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, for the most part, all the sites were accessible and could serve as tools for choosing a candidate.

Deborah Kendrick reviews the Roomba Robotic Floorvac from iRobot. This small, automatic vacuum cleans rooms and entertains anyone in its presence at the same time. Some accessibility features are built in--for example, the power switch beeps when Roomba is turned on, and when you select a room size, small, medium or large, a short musical sequence is played. However, the manual is currently not available in accessible format, and the virtual wall unit, which keeps the Roomba from falling down stairs, is not accessible. It is true that nature abhors a vacuum, but this is one you may love.

Annemarie Cooke, Senior External Relations Officer at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, writes about the history of accessibility at IBM. Big Blue has an illustrious history in this area and has done more for people with disabilities than any other Fortune 500 company. This article spans the years from the original IBM Screen Reader and its developer, Jim Thatcher, to IBM's future plans and projects related to web accessibility and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (which establishes federal standards for the accessibility of electronic and information technology).

Deborah Kendrick interviews Gayle Yarnall, president and owner of Adaptive Technology Consulting in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Yarnall began her career in the assistive technology field by training people to use the original Kurzweil reading machine in the late 1970s, worked at Telesensory Corporation and then started her own successful company.

We are delighted with all the positive feedback we have received in response to the free, web-only January issue. More people are reading AccessWorld now than ever before. We welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions, many of which are published either in AccessWorld Extra or the letters column in AccessWorld. The space constraints of a print issue often kept us from publishing letters in the magazine, but, starting this month, the letters column is back--as long as we receive material to fill it, of course.

Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief

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