The ninth annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference was held from January 30 to February 2, 2008, at the Caribe Royale All-Suites Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. More than 2,300 people attended. ATIA is a not-for-profit membership organization of manufacturers, sellers, and providers of technology-based assistive devices and services. One in three people at this year's conference was a first-time attendee. Speakers and attendees came from places as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, Guam, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, and Venezuela.
The product that attracted the most attention at ATIA was the KNFB Reader Mobile Edition, software that is loaded on to a Symbian-based Nokia N82 cell phone, which measures about 2 inches by 4 inches and weighs just 4 ounces. With just the press of a few buttons, the cell phone can snap a picture of a memo, book page, or piece of U.S. currency and read it instantly with synthetic speech. The text also appears on the cell phone's screen in large font, with the spoken text highlighted, rendering it easily distinguishable from other text on the screen.
The Nokia cell phone itself has myriad high-end features, including a web browser, e-mail capabilities, MP3 player, and GPS functions. Although these features require a cell phone screen reader to become completely accessible, such additional software is not required for the Reader. Both Mobile Speak and TALKS are compatible with the cell phone.
The KNFB Reader Mobile edition sells for about $2,000. Screen readers cost about $300. The Nokia N82 is currently supported by T-Mobile and AT&T, and is available from K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc. dealers.
Ai Squared was showing ZoomText Scripting Edition, which makes it possible to create scripts to customize the behavior of ZoomText and other applications, providing enhanced functionality and automation of many computing tasks. For example, you can automate the process of finding specific fields in a large database. A script is a text file that describes the steps that are required to complete a given task. ZoomText scripts can be written using industry-standard scripting languages, such as VBScript, Java script, or Perl. Scripts can be written in Notepad; no additional software is required.
GW Micro announced that the next version of Window-Eyes will include support for a scripting language. It will be possible to write scripts in several programming languages.
Clarity introduced the i-vu, a pocket-sized CCTV with 5-20x magnification on a 2-inch screen. It lets you view images in color, reverse image, and freeze frame.
Conference Sessions of Interest
Dusty Voorhees and Eric Damery, of Freedom Scientific, conducted a session on JAWS and MAGic. They demonstrated how speech from JAWS has been integrated into MAGic. They said that JAWS navigation keys, such as H for heading, would be added to MAGic in the future.
Doug Geoffray, of GW Micro, led a session on the new scripting capabilities that will be included in the next version of Window-Eyes. These scripts will streamline the screen reader's use with various programs. Scripts have already been written for Quicken and WinAmp.
Ike Presley, of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), presented a session on teaching the use of audio-assisted reading. The focus was on describing how to teach students to identify and take note of important information while reading audio books.
Kay Ferrell, of AFB, reported on the development of guidelines for describing audio material for children.
Cecilia Robinson, of the Region 4 Education Service Center, discussed assistive technology and resources that can help instructors teach the Nemeth Code to students.
Anne Taylor, of the National Federation of the Blind, discussed low-cost screen readers, including Nonvisual Desktop Access, Thunder, and System Access. The session covered the strengths and weaknesses of these products and made recommendations on when they would be viable alternatives to full-featured products.
There were good points and bad points regarding access for attendees who are blind at this year's conference. Volunteers at the conference's registration area were not helpful in answering questions or giving verbal directions for blind people to get to the Accessibility desk, where accessible conference materials were being distributed. They were not familiar with the format or contents of the conference CDs. Attendees were dismayed to find no braille on the covers of sections of the braille program. Instead, they found useless, raised-print letters. It may help the people who give out braille programs at registration to have print on the covers, but there must be braille on the covers as well.
On the other hand, carpeting and "bumpers" were used to guide people from the buildings with guest rooms across the parking lot to the convention center where sessions and exhibits were to be found. Braille menus were available and accurate in the Tropicale restaurant.
This year's conference included the second ATIA Leadership Forum on Accessibility. The forum provided an opportunity for more than 100 representatives from leading corporations, governmental agencies, and educational institutions to explore specific strategies for integrating accessibility throughout their enterprises.
During the opening general session, Frances West, IBM's director of human ability and accessibility, presented "Justifying Accessibility: The Business Case for Inclusion." Rob Sinclair, director of accessibility for Microsoft, discussed "Technology and the Accessible Workstyle." These two sessions provided a look at the actual benefit and value of investing in accessibility and the direction of accessible technology. General sessions provided case studies from Walgreens, Canon USA, Adobe, and CAP (Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program) within the Department of Defense. Each presenter discussed the strategies that were used, the benefits that were realized, and the lessons that were learned.
This is just a small sampling of the information and networking opportunities that the participants shared at the conference. The ATIA conference continues to grow and has become an important annual event in the field of assistive technology.
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