More and more people are using personal digital assistants (PDAs) to keep track of appointments and contact information at work and at home. For many sighted people, a PDA is simply a small device to use when away from their desks. They check their schedules to confirm future meetings, jot down short notes, or maintain a to-do list. Back in their offices, they transfer the information to their computers.
For people who are blind or visually impaired, PDAs can serve a much more significant role. They make appointment calendars--which are unfriendly programs on desktop computers--easily accessible. Unlike laptop computers, they can be carried around comfortably, switched on, and used immediately to write down an e-mail address or phone number. They include handy utilities like a stopwatch, alarm, and calculator. As many of us have discovered, one of these devices can quickly become indispensable or, if you don't back up your information regularly, a disaster waiting to happen.
In this issue, Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), and I review the BrailleNote PK from Pulse Data and the Braille Hansone from HIMS Company, Ltd., two adapted PDAs. These products include, in a small package, sophisticated word processors, appointment calendars, address books, e-mail capabilities, web browsers, media players and multiple ways to connect with a computer and other devices. We evaluate how well each product performs and how easy they are to learn and use. In March, we will evaluate the PAC Mate from Freedom Scientific and VisuAide's Maestro. Find out what the next generation of products has to offer as they shrink in size and grow in power and versatility.
AccessWorld articles usually focus on new products and how new features can help people who are blind or visually impaired do their jobs. For a change of pace, Kolby Garrison, a high school student from North Carolina, takes us through a busy day and explains how she uses her PAC Mate PDA both at school and at home.
Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, interviews four scientists who are blind or visually impaired. They discuss their experiences while training to enter their fields, how they accomplish their jobs, and how they relate to their sighted colleagues. Discover how a physicist, an oceanographer, a chemist and an astrophysicist use technology and ingenuity to perform their fascinating jobs.
Frances Mary D'Andrea, Director of AFB's Literacy Center in Atlanta, reviews the Mountbatten Brailler, an electronic braillewriter and printer packed with additional features. D'Andrea covers what the Mountbatten does now and its place in the classroom for beginners. Part 2, in March, will focus on the device's more advanced features. The main reason the Mountbatten has been confined to the classroom is its high price tag. For students, it provides an alternative to the omnipresent Perkins Brailler.
Taine Duncan and Darren Burton of AFB TECH write about the current troubling paucity of accessible home blood pressure monitors (HBPMs) on the market. In previous articles, AccessWorld has documented the fact that only one blood glucose monitor currently available uses modern technology and is accessible, but it comes at a price 10 times that of the inaccessible monitors. There are only two HBPMs for sale that have speech output. This article discusses an informal survey of diabetes educators and highlights their lack of knowledge of how to instruct patients who are blind or visually impaired to independently monitor and manage their health.
Deborah Kendrick reviews the MuVo, an extremely small device that plays files in MP3, WMA, or the proprietary format produced by Audible.com. This article describes the MuVo and puts it through its paces. Learn more about this tiny, accessible off-the-shelf player.
Joy Relton of AFB's Governmental Relations Group in Washington, DC, discusses the Assistive Technology Act of 2004. Signed into law this past October, the act reauthorizes funding for Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAPs) created under the law in 56 U.S. states and territories. These ATAPs (some of which are part of state agencies for the blind), provide demonstrations of and low-cost loans for the purchase of assistive technology, as well as information and referral. Learn about and use a major source of financing for assistive technology.
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