September 2009 Issue  Volume 10  Number 5

AccessWorld News

Movies at Home for Everyone

A recent partnership between WGBH of Boston and Sony Pictures of California spells good news for movie lovers who have difficulty seeing key elements on the screen. Beginning this September, all Sony theater releases with Descriptive Video Service, when made available in DVD or Blu-Ray formats, will include an additional audio track containing the description. WGBH pioneered Descriptive Video Service in 1990, with the launch of description added to some PBS television programs. This new partnership marks an exciting new era, making first-run movies available for viewers who are visually impaired on the commercially available disks.

The descriptive track will be found in the alternate language menu and will be identified as English Audio Description. It will be activated only when the menu item is selected, so the same movie can be played with or without accompanying description. To access the menus, customers who are blind or have low vision should use a hardware DVD player with a remote control that includes a Languages button or access menus through Windows Media Player or WinDvd on a computer.

Among the first movies to be released under the partnership will be District 9, Julie and Julia, and The Ugly Truth. To view a regularly updated list of titles available on DVD that include the DVS audio track, visit the web site

Online Computer Essentials Training

The Cisco Academy for the Visually Impaired offers online computer essentials courses for people who are blind or have low vision. Because of a collaboration among organizations, including Curtin University of Australia, Cisco Academy, and qualified instructors who are blind, the same course material that is taught to sighted students is presented online in accessible formats. Training can prepare individuals to work helpdesks, act as network technicians and service routers, and so forth, in one or both of the existing courses. As the name implies, Cisco equipment is used, but preparation for A+ certification includes work with Microsoft, Linux, and Apple products.

Students who are visually impaired from Australia, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, Canada, and the United States have participated. The cost is $75 and includes certificates. For further information, e-mail

Eye-Pal Solo

The Eye-Pal Solo is a recent alternative to scanning and reading print for people who are blind or have low vision. The product consists of a two-inch-high box, where the printed page, book, or magazine is placed for scanning, and a 16-inch pole holding a camera above the print to be scanned. Within seconds of pressing the camera's button, the Eye-Pal has processed the image and begins reading the scanned text aloud via synthesized speech. Controls allow the user to start and stop reading or navigate backward or forward through the recognized text. While not as portable as some other reading devices, (the box is the approximate size of a city telephone book or large braille volume), the Eye-Pal offers some advantages for people with manual dexterity or level of perception difficulties. The camera is permanently located in the desired place above the print, and the platform itself serves as a tactile guide for the correct placement of pages. The device can hold up to four pages in memory. Its approximate cost is $2,000. While supplies last, customers who purchase Eye-Pal SOLO in September and October 2009 will also receive a free Acer Aspire Netbook computer.

For more information, contact ABISee at or phone 800-681-5909.

Desktop Magnifier

A collaboration between HumanWare and the Royal National Institute of Blind People has produced the SmartView Synergy, an electronic desktop magnifier. The product can ship with a 19-inch flat LCD monitor, a distortion-free 22-inch monitor, or be used in conjunction with a monitor or television a customer already owns.

With SmartView Synergy, the user with low vision can read magazines, newspapers, and bank statements or enlarge and view charts, diagrams, and photographs. Controls allow the user to adjust contrast and size to meet individual needs, and the LCD can be set to a variety of positions.

For further information, visit or contact HumanWare Canada directly by phoning: 888-723-7273. In the United Kingdom and Europe, phone +44 1933 415 800 or e-mail

Focus 40 Blue

Freedom Scientific has released a new braille display, boasting a 40% reduction in size compared with previous units from the company; wireless connectivity; and a host of features for flexible and portable refreshable braille at home, at work, or on the go. The Focus 40 Blue offers 40 cells of refreshable braille, Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity, a Perkins-style braille keyboard, and USB connection for recharging the unit. The battery runs for 20 hours between charges, and the display can operate within 3 feet of the desktop or laptop computer with which it is paired. On a long commute, the user who is blind or has low vision can leave the laptop in the bag and work solely from the Focus 40 Blue.

Navigation options include thumb keys, WHIZWHEELS, and rocker bars, and the unit features 10 hot keys for user customization. The price is set at $4,495.

For further information, phone 800-444-4443 or visit

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