May 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 2

AccessWorld News

You Are Cordially Invited!

July is convention month, and this year, the AccessWorld team extends our special invitation to attend AFB presentations and activities at the annual conventions of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the American Counsel of the Blind, and the National Federation of the Blind.

2010 is turning out to be an exciting year for AFB, and you are invited to learn all about the wealth of information we have to offer! Whether it is resources for job seekers and seniors losing vision, information on important advances in accessibility, or the future of AccessWorld as it becomes a monthly publication, we will share information you will want to know. And what fun would a convention be without visiting old friends and making new ones?

Please consult the AER, NFB, and ACB websites for the latest in agendas and information.

Stem Cells Restore Sight in Mouse Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa

An international research team led by Columbia University Medical Center successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. The full article was originally published in Science Daily on February 24, 2010.

Resources to Help Pay for Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is often an expensive necessity, but many cannot afford the high prices. A recent blog posting lists several resources that may help you to finance your purchases.

From AFB's home page, you may also find valuable information about services and resources available to people with vision loss and their families.

New Facebook Chat Option Announced by AOL

AOL has announced that its popular and accessible instant messaging client for the PC and Mac now supports Facebook chat. The partnership allows users to chat with Facebook friends in real time. Users of JAWS and VoiceOver have immediate access to the new instant messaging features that are based on AOL's work to ensure out-of-the-box accessibility. AOL hopes that other screen-reading products will soon support the new instant messaging client, including its Facebook chat features.

A podcast demonstration is available from the Freedom Scientific FSCast, episode 40.

Torsten Brand, Nuance Product Manager for Talks and Zooms, Dies at 45

[Originally posted on Blind Bargains on April 13, 2010.]

Torsten Brand, one of the most influential men in the development of accessible cellular phone software, has died of complications from an operation; he was 45. Torsten attended Universität Hannover in Germany from 1984-1991. In 2002, he partnered with Marcus Groeber and founded Brand & Groeber Communications, which began the development of screen-reading technology for Nokia phones. In 2004, the start-up was purchased by Scansoft, which later became Nuance. Brand served as the product manager for mobile applications at Nuance Communications, Inc., until his untimely passing. He had most recently led the release of Talks version 5, supporting 5th-edition Symbian-based cell phones, including touch-screen models. He leaves behind four children. A post on the Handytech North America Twitter page sums up the feelings of many: "You've done so much for the blind community. We will all miss you."

The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation

National Braille Press would like to invite you to apply for a $20,000 award to honor innovators in the field of tactile literacy. The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was developed to inspire innovators tocontinue the promotion of braille literacy for blind and deafblind people worldwide.

The $20,000 Prize will be granted to a group or individual for a new educational method, a new tactile literacy product, or a new technological advance in tactile literacy. The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation may be awarded for a completed project or anticipated concept that shows viability and will improve opportunities for blind people.

Applications must be received by May 24, 2010. For more information and to download the application, please visit the Touch of Genius website.

The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation is provided through support from National Braille Press and The Gibney Family Foundation.

A Simple, Basic Cell Phone

Over the years, AccessWorld cell phone articles have focused mainly on high-end smart phones with screen readers, Web browsers, and all the other bells and whistles that are available with today's mobile technology. However, we still often get calls from readers who just want an easy-to-use cell phone with large buttons to perform the basic tasks of placing and receiving phone calls. The Snapfon (pronounced "snap phone") ez One, available from Independent Living Aids, could be that cell phone.

Priced at $99.95 and measuring 2 by 4 by 0.5 inches, the Snapfon ez One is an unlocked phone that works on the GSM network, so inserting a pre-paid SIM card or a SIM card from a GSM network service provider, such as AT&T or T-Mobile, would work.

The half-inch-square dialing keys are arranged in the traditional 3 by 4 grid and have a nib on the 5 key for easy orientation. The send and end keys are a little larger and also easy to distinguish. From a tactile standpoint, it is the most user-friendly mobile phone keypad the AFB TECH lab rats have seen in a long time. The ez One also has a setting called "number voice," which speaks the digits as you dial them, in a somewhat tinny but understandable voice. However, the voice does not speak any display screen information or support any other functions.

Functions on this phone include a phone book, call log, settings, and a text-messaging application. In the settings menu, you can set the clock/alarm, the ringtone, the display contrast, and the "number voice" option.

Although none of those features/settings are supported by speech, it does have an FM radio that can be operated non-visually, and the phone can be set to vibrate mode or speaker phone by touch. The keypad lock is also a tactile switch, as is an integrated flashlight. With a little key press memorization, one could use the phone's three-way conference calling feature. Another feature is the SOS button, which is inset on the back of the phone. Pressing and holding this button emits a loud siren sound, and it immediately dials 911 and goes into hands-free speaker phone mode.

From a low vision perspective, the white labels on the dialing buttons contrast well with the charcoal background, and the numbers are set in 36-point font. The display screen is small, and although some text displayed is as large as 16 point, the black text on a green background does not provide much contrast. An orange backlight that is active while pressing buttons does improve contrast somewhat, but the screen in general would accommodate people with only very mild vision impairments.

The phone comes with a print manual, but the print is in a tiny 7-point font. The manual is also available online in a mostly accessible PDF file.

Large Print Keyboards for People with Low Vision

If you are a person with low vision, you may find a large print keyboard helpful. AiSquared, the maker of ZoomText, is now selling its large-print "classic keyboards" for $50, half of the normal price. You can read about the differences between the classic keyboards and the "second generation" keyboards and you can also check out pictures of both versions by visiting the AiSquared website.

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