April 2017 Issue  Volume 18  Number 4

In This Issue

Editor's Page

A Final Wrap up for the AFB Leadership Conference and CSUN 2017

Conference Coverage

The 2017 AFB Leadership Conference Report

by Janet Ingber

The American Foundation for the Blind held its annual Leadership Conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, March 3-5, 2017. This conference is geared toward assistive technology specialists, rehabilitation counselors, teachers of the blind and visually impaired, organizations that serve people with visual impairments, and anyone interested in these fields. This exciting conference offered many educational sessions, exhibits, and awards for very deserving people.

CSUN 2017: Observations of a Conference Newbie

by Jamie Pauls

Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of attending several assistive technology conferences, but this year was the first time I attended a CSUN conference. As a general rule, anything that is highly spoken of by others never quite meets up to the hype, but CSUN is definitely an exception. I approached this year's CSUN conference with wide-eyed wonder, and I was not disappointed. I plan to return in the future, and I am excited to see what new surprises await.

CSUN 2017: Technology Highlights

by Shelly Brisbin

Among the pleasures of the annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference is that it is diverse enough to be whatever you, the attendee, want it to be. For a large group of attendees, it's a week of learning, chock full of sessions on topics ranging from Web accessibility and document-building, to the latest in navigation innovation for people with blindness. If you're in the market to purchase assistive technology for yourself or an organization, there's an exhibit hall, chock full of innovative new devices, and the latest versions of old favorites. This year, my fourth at CSUN, I worked the exhibit hall, trying to answer the question, "What's new and cool for people with blindness and low vision?"

Product Evaluations and Guides

Live on the Edge, or Have an Ultra Lifestyle?: An In-depth Review of HIMS and BAUM Braille Displays

by Scott Davert

In this in-depth article, I compare the VarioUltra from BAUM and the Braille Edge from HIMS. I chose these two units because they both have 40 cells of braille and are what the market seems to now call "smart displays," a term given to devices that do not perform all of the functions of a traditional notetaker. At the same time, these devices are able to accomplish more than just connecting to an external gadget such as a computer, tablet, or smart phone. This article examines the Braille Edge and VarioUltra for their connectivity, support while connecting with some external devices, internal applications, and physical appearance.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Giving a Listen to The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery

by Bill Holton

The concept of a "talking book" goes all the way back to Thomas Edison, whose very first recording was "Mary Had a Little Lamb." There's a lot of history between that first, lost recording and my latest Audible.com download. Happily, this history has been researched and compiled in an excellent new book from Harvard University Press, The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew Rubery. When I was 16 I read what was available; these days I read what I want. If I see an interesting author on TV, or hear about a great new book on NPR's Fresh Air, I can nearly always immediately find it in some accessible format. I can't imagine a life without books, and this book is a fascinating look at all it took to get us to where we are today.

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Editor's Page

A Final Wrap up for the AFB Leadership Conference and CSUN 2017

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

The AFB Leadership Conference (AFBLC) 2017 was held March 2-4 in our nation's capital, Washington DC. I am excited to say the conference attracted well over 400 established and emerging leaders in the blindness field, making this the highest attended AFBLC to date. Conference attendees included technology experts, corporate representatives, university professors, teachers of students with visual impairments, orientation and mobility instructors, rehabilitation professionals, and parents. They came from diverse organizations and institutions spanning the public and private sectors, including school districts, schools for the blind, Veterans Administrations, hospitals, private agencies, and universities.

As in the past, this year's conference sessions were eligible for continuing education credits and focused on technology, leadership, employment, education, transition, seniors experiencing vision loss, orientation and mobility, and rehabilitation.

AFB and the AccessWorld team would like to thank our generous conference sponsors: JPMorgan Chase & Co., CTIA, Sprint, Canon, Delta Gamma, Facebook, Microsoft, NIB, HumanWare, APH, T-Mobile, National Association of Broadcasters, Perkins School for the Blind, Verizon, Spectrum Cable, Yahoo, Northrup Grumman, and CTA and the CTA Foundation.

It's not too early to mark your calendars and save the date for the 2018 AFB Leadership Conference. Join us as we envision a future with no limits at the 2018 AFB Leadership Conference, Oakland City Center Marriott, April 5-7.

The 32nd Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, otherwise known as CSUN 2017, was also held in early March in sunny San Diego, California. It's impossible to take in all the pre-conference workshops, educational sessions, forums, technology exhibits, and group meetings, but the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) was there, doing its best to experience as much of CSUN 2017 as possible!

AFB staff members were involved in several educational presentations and meetings with national leaders in the mainstream and access technology arenas. To help keep AccessWorld readers up to date with the goings on at CSUN, AFB was, once again, proud to sponsor the Blind Bargains podcast coverage of CSUN 2017. The AccessWorld team encourages you to log on to the Blind Bargains Audio Content page, which features great interviews, presentations, and updates on the latest in technology news from the conference.

As part of AccessWorld's special CSUN coverage, please be sure to read the articles by Shelly Brisbin and Jamie Pauls in this issue, which highlight some of the technology shown in the CSUN exhibit hall.

It's not too early to mark your calendars and save the date for the 33rd annual CSUN conference. It will again be held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego and will run March 19-23, 2018.

Lee Huffman, AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief
American Foundation for the Blind

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Conference Coverage

The 2017 AFB Leadership Conference Report

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) held its annual Leadership Conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, on March 3-5, 2017. AFB President and CEO Kirk Adams announced in the opening address that there were a record number of attendees.

This conference is geared toward assistive technology specialists, rehabilitation counselors, teachers of the blind and visually impaired, organizations that serve people with visual impairments, and anyone interested in these fields. The gathering featured an AccessWorld Tech Summit. There were many concurrent sessions on topics including seniors with vision loss, children who have autism and are also visually impaired, and making the transition from school to the workplace.

Exhibitors included HumanWare, LS&S/Reinecker USA, American Printing House for the Blind, and En-Vision America. Exhibitors showed their products and some talked about special services they provide. For example, AFB had information about some of their programs including AFB Press and AFB Vision Aware. Other organizations included Computers for the Blind, Hadley Institute for the Visually Impaired, US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the US Library of Congress.

The Keynote Address and Stephen Garff Marriott Award

The Keynote Address featured Kirk Adams, AFB President and CEO. After welcoming conference members, he presented the Stephen Garff Marriott Award to Robert Vetere. This award honors an individual who is blind or visually impaired and who has served as an extraordinary mentor or who has attained remarkable professional success. Vetere is a senior workplace accommodation specialist with Northrop Grumman's Global Corporate Responsibility organization.

Vetere's speech was very moving. He said, "You have two choices: sequester yourself or take the challenge…If you navigated life, you are a walking library of inspiration."

After the award presentation, Vetere and Denna Lambert from NASA discussed their careers and the importance of being a mentor.

When Vetere started at Northrop Grumman in 1978, he hid the fact that he was going blind; by 1980, he was legally blind. In the beginning, the only people who knew were his closest friends. He added, "It's something I'm kind of ashamed of today…I love this new generation because they are bold, they are proud, and that's the way it should be…For smart employers, it's all about their qualifications and talents."

Lambert was born with congenital cataracts. She uses a variety of low vision and blindness products. While in college, she said she let other people's doubts about her ability become her doubts and it took a while to get past that. She said, "It's taken a journey of meeting with other blind individuals and sighted individuals who were able to sit and talk through that challenge of how do you overcome those doubts so it turns into confidence, courage, and moving forward?" She benefitted from both informal and formal (from blindness organizations) mentors.

She said, "There's so much work that you can do within the agency." She is employed at NASA, "working with librarians and scientists to create a space which takes research and turns it into collaboration."

Vetere closed the session with the following statement:

Don't put limitations on yourself. Don't let your employer or society limit you. Don't allow anyone to tell you what you're capable of. If you gain employment and your employer isn't expecting you to be his or her best employee, you strive and show them that they're wrong. I tell young people all the time: "You're going to have to work harder, smarter, and better than all of your colleagues just to be considered on the same level." That's not fair, but you don't have to tell a room of blind people that life's not fair. I believe that we're given gifts that offset our loss of vision or any other disability. Use those gifts, become the best you can be and always keep in mind that you're not doing this for yourself. If you're employed, you are among the lucky minority right now. Do it for the next generation of young people who will benefit from your hard work, passion, and effort.

If you are looking for a mentor or want to become one, get the AFB Career Connect app.

The AccessWorld Tech Summit and Showcase

Facilitator: Lee Huffman, AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

Huffman welcomed everyone and explained the summit format. After each speaker, there was time for questions and answers. The first part of the summit featured presenters from several companies and organizations including the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), Yahoo, and Sprint. The second part of the Summit featured an Exhibiters Forum with representatives from assistive technology companies including HumanWare, OrCam, and Eschenbach Optik.

The Federal Communications Commission

Speakers: Suzy Rosen Singleton, Chief, and Will Schell, Attorney-Advisor, Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Federal Communications Commission

The session focused on access to video description. This has been an issue for many years for both individuals who are blind or visually impaired and the FCC.

Singleton began by saying, through a sign-language interpreter, that the FCC's Disability Rights office focuses on insuring that technology is accessible to all people with disabilities, as authorized by law.

Ms. Singleton explained that the FCC is hoping to soon mandate an increase in the number of hours of television programming with video description. To receive information about the FCC's work with regard to accessibility, subscribe to their email list.

Schell spoke about the new regulation requiring that all devices that play video and are made on or after December 20, 2016, be accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. That equipment must have an accessible user interface so that a person who is blind can use all or nearly all functions of the device. This includes settings, menus, and player controls. Schell explained, "Most of this is accomplished through text-to-speech." He added, "Closed captioning and video description are special functions. They get a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon." Devices include TVs, smart TVs, tablets, smart phones, and removable media players. The accessibility rule also applies to any pre-installed apps on the device and any apps the manufacturer recommends to download and install.

Schell said that accessible set-top boxes must be available from a provider on request. Gaining access to these devices should not be any more difficult than gaining access for a sighted person. The largest cable and satellite companies must have the accessible boxes now. Boxes cannot cost more than a device that is not accessible.

According to Schell, manufacturers as well as cable and satellite providers must have information about which products are accessible on their websites. This information must include how their accessibility features work and whom to contact for specific details. He recommended the FCC disability website for more information.


Speaker: Darren Burton, Yahoo Accessibility Specialist

There are over one billion Yahoo users. Burton is Product Manager for all mobile apps and he works to make them accessible. The topic of this session was the March Madness app, which lets you pick the outcome of each game in the NCAA basketball tournament. There were cheers from the crowd when various teams were mentioned.

The March Madness app is now fully accessible. Burton demonstrated by making team selections and showing how to get to the various brackets. He showed how to get additional information about a specific team and how that team did against a specific opponent.

Burton said, "Productivity is hugely important. We need to use word processing, spreadsheets, and things like that to get the job done. The rest of life is real important too; things to talk about on the bus, at the coffee shop. You talk about politics, games, and sports and all that fun stuff. It's part of our lives and Yahoo takes it very seriously. That's one of the great things we do at Yahoo: the rest of your life."

Burton spoke about the importance of teaching engineers, designers, and researchers about accessibility while they are still in school. More information is available at the Teach Access website.


Speaker: April Lufriu, Sprint Vision Ambassador

Sprint has new options for people with visual impairments. Lufriu spoke about Sprint's commitment.

Lufriu said that Sprint is going back to the fundamentals by bringing out a great product at a great price. She said, "We truly want to be your premier wireless provider of choice, especially for the blind and low vision community." She added, "Anything new that is leaving the doors of Sprint is truly accessible, from our customer service, to our website, and to our new phones."

Sprint will be releasing a new phone that is a hybrid between a smart phone and a flip phone. It has the usual 12-button keypad and also a touch screen. It is good for someone who does not want a complicated smart phone but wants more than a flip phone.

Sprint offers free directory assistance and a dedicated customer support line that is available for people who are blind or low vision. Lee Huffman, AccessWorld's Editor-in-Chief, asked what kind of training the accessibility team received. Lufriu responded, "They went through a lot of detailed training working with blind people, because if you bring in a normal person to try to answer those questions, they're really not going to know how to do it. They have been trained with people who are blind and low vision and go through those steps to answer their questions as best as possible. And if they haven't, just let us know and we'll fix the problem."

More information about Sprint's accessibility can be found at the Sprint Vision website or by calling 855-885-7568.

VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies

Speaker: Lind Stevens, OTRL, SCLV, MS, Clinical Specialist, Mid-Atlantic

The Miniature Implantable Telescope

There is a new, surgical implant to assist people with end-stage macular degeneration. The miniature implantable telescope from VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2011. Stevens explained that this telescope is about the size of a pea and is placed in the eye capsule where the lens was. This is similar to cataract surgery where the lens is removed, but instead of a new lens, the telescope is implanted. In the US, the device has 2.7X magnification. Stevens explained, "It's pretty intensive surgery for eye surgery these days. They end up having to cut quite a big opening and it requires about seven to eight stitches."

The telescope is approved only for people with end-stage wet or dry macular degeneration who have an acuity of 20/160 or worse in both eyes and are at least 65 years old. They cannot have had cataract surgery and their condition must have been stable for at least six months. The telescope is implanted into the better-seeing eye. Stevens said, "The telescope uses natural eye movement, unlike an external telescope where you have to pull it up. With this, if you want to look somewhere, just turn your eye. It's pretty much on demand." She added, "The telescope eye is for detail and the other eye is for mobility and seeing the big picture. The other eye must have good peripheral vision. She said, "Because it's such a complex system, after you get the telescope, vision rehabilitation is essential to help the person learn." The person uses one eye at a time.

Stevens explained that there are three steps to receiving the telescope. The first part is the selection process, where the patient is evaluated by several doctors including a retina doctor, a cornea doctor, and a low vision optometrist. The prospective patient is also evaluated by an occupational therapist. A decision is made as to whether the person is a good implant candidate. The second part of the process is the actual surgery. The third phase is rehabilitation. Stevens said the recovery period is about three to six months. The patient will visit the low vision optometrist several times in the first year and will work with an occupational therapist.

For more information visit the technology webpage on the VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies website.


Speaker: Zachary Bastian, Verizon

Verizon's 5G is coming. Bastian explained this new generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology.

The presentation began with Mr. Bastian discussing the AccessWorld article, Easier-to-Use Cell Phone Options for People with Vision Loss, by Jamie Pauls. Bastian pointed out that the author had a very positive experience with Verizon's website and customer support.

He then spoke about 5G and how it will change wireless communication. He said, "It's going to be completely game changing in the amount of traffic it can handle. So not only is it going to be able to handle a lot of traffic, but it also operates on low latency which means response times are almost instantaneous."

Bastian added that Verizon feels that 5G technology will help facilitate autonomous cars, better way-finding services, and tele-health remote monitoring.

He said that since 5G is so fast, it will need large "blocks of spectrum that are not interrupted. Those are the wireless frequencies that the signals travel over." He said that instead of large cell towers, there will be more and smaller cells since 5G wavelengths are shorter and can only travel short distances.

At this time, 5G is in the testing phase. Verizon is doing home testing in 11 markets including Atlanta, Houston, Denver, and Miami.

Exhibitor's Forum

During this part of the program, seven exhibitors had the opportunity to speak about and demonstrate their products.


Speaker: Motti Attia, Sales Development Manager

The OrCam is a pair of glasses with a small camera mounted on the right temple and a small tethered control unit. It can identify currency, recognize products and faces, and read with the push of a button or the simple gesture of pointing with your finger. It can read text even if the page is upside down. Products can be added to the unit's database. OrCam's facial recognition system photographs a person and then speaks his or her name. The unit recognizes faces based on distance between eyes, nose, and mouth.

The user must have hearing in their right ear and cannot have any tremors.

Along with the product, the purchaser also receives training on how to use the OrCam. There are two models. The model that reads text costs $2,500 while the full-featured version costs $3,500.

En-Vision America

Speaker: Chrissy Burke, Sales Representative

En-Vision America's ScripTalk was discussed and demonstrated. ScripTalk is a small device that reads prescription labels and is free to the blind and visually impaired. A medicine bottle is placed on the unit, and whatever is on the bottle, including medication name and dosage, is spoken. Burke indicated that participating pharmacies include Rite Aid, Walmart, and Express Scripts. She added that if a pharmacy is not sure if they can use ScripTalk, they can call En-Vision America and service team members will answer questions.

Burke then spoke about the i.d. mate Galaxy bar code scanner. It is very sensitive so it's not necessary to be focused exactly on the bar code. The Galaxy can name the product and read information on the package including cooking directions and nutrition information. If a product is not in the database, you can add it. They have washable labels to put on clothing.

The i.d. mate Galaxy Bar Code Scanner costs $1,299.

Eschenbach Optik

Speaker: Ron Dare, Mid-West Senior Territory Manager

Eschenbach offers a line of products for people who have low vision. Eschenbach works with low vision doctors, agencies, the VA, and school districts that have clients who use these products. They do not sell directly to the public.

Dare said that over the last five years, Eschenbach has been using new lens design and lighting technology which have made products more intuitive.

Dare spoke about Eschenbach's Vislux Digital HD, a 7-inch, hand-held video magnifier. Its features include an HDMI port, which allows the user to connect the device to a larger screen and increase or decrease magnification, and colors that can be set to a user's preference. This device allows scrolling from side to side, even at high magnification.

Dare indicated the professional price is $495 and the MSRP is $995.

The next Eschenbach product demonstrated was the Magnilink Voice. It is a reading machine that is portable and easy to carry. The camera takes a picture and starts reading the text on the screen. There are three USB ports. A book on a thumb drive can be placed into a USB port and Magnilink Voice can read it. Scanned images can be saved to a thumb drive.

Magnilink ranges in price from $1,495 to $1,795, depending on desired features.

Learn more about Eschenbach's products at the Eschenbach website.


Speaker: Joe Jorgenson, Founder

Accessibyte is a software bundle that is self-voicing and developed for new computer users and teachers of the visually impaired. It has of four separate programs: Typio, Accessibyte Arcade, Quick Cards, and WordWav. Typio is a typing tutorial. Accessibyte Arcade contains nine interactive games. Quick Cards lets teachers create accessible flash cards based on classroom work. WordWav converts text to speech and is designed for teachers of the visually impaired to quickly convert text into spoken words. Jorgenson said the most widely used program is the Typio tutorial. It has various themes including Hip Hop and Space.

Accessibyte costs $100 and there is a free trial. Learn more at the Accessibyte website.


Speaker: Jerry Marindin, Director of Federal Sales

Marindin passed around a Focus 14 braille display. He described how this display can fit into the ElBraille. He described the ElBraille as a docking station for the Focus 14 or Focus 40 braille displays. "The ElBraille unit is actually a Windows 10 PC. So when you take the Focus braille display and put it into the ElBraille you now have a fully functional, I'm going to call it, note taker."

The ElBraille has USB ports and an HDMI port. Encryption is available and it can be connected to a network. The unit has Wi-Fi and GPS capabilities. It uses JAWS as the screen reader.

Marindin did not quote a price. For more information visit the Freedom Scientific website.


Speaker: Mike Tindell, Blindness Product Specialist

Mr. Tindell spoke about HumanWare's BrailleNote Touch notetaker, the first Google certified braille tablet. It gives access to Google updates and to the Google Play store. Tindell said that any accessible app from the Google Play store runs on the BrailleNote Touch. The BrailleNote Touch runs on the Android operating system. Email can now handle IMAP and Exchange accounts. The keyboard can be flipped back to expose the touch screen. The BrailleNote Touch ships with 32GB memory, but there is also a 128 GB option. The KNFB Reader is pre-installed on the device at no additional cost. All HumanWare product updates are free.

Tindell also said that HumanWare now carries the Romeo and Juliet braille embossers. These can print wirelessly from the BrailleNote Touch, a PC, and various other devices. Braille translation software is necessary only if perfect translation is needed.

The BrailleNote Touch costs $5,495 for the 32GB model. For more information go to the HumanWare website.

The AFB Access Awards

The Access Awards honor individuals, corporations, and organizations that are eliminating or substantially reducing inequities faced by people who are blind or visually impaired.

A very large crowd gathered for this exciting event. AFB's President and CEO, Kirk Adams, welcomed the group. Lee Huffman was Master of Ceremonies and presented the awards.

Bridge Multimedia

Award accepted by: Matt Kaplowitz President and Chief Creative Officer

This company has become a leader in video description. Through their efforts, many movies, television programs, live events, and other works have become accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Computers for the Blind

Award Accepted by: David Jepson, Creative Officer

This nonprofit company refurbishes old computers and installs accessible software on them. Then they are sold at minimal cost to people who cannot afford to pay full price. The company also has a lending library of described movies.

United Airlines

Award accepted by: Tanseela Molani, Design Researcher

United Airlines has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements to make their website accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

The Irvin P. Schloss Award

This award is given to recognize a tremendous legacy of advocacy work on behalf of individuals with vision loss.

Recipient: Bernadette Kappen

Dr. Kappen is Executive Director of the New York Institute for Special Education. She has been a tireless advocate for children who are blind or have visual impairments, as well as for those who have emotional or learning disabilities.

The AFB Migel Medal

This award is the highest honor in the blindness field. It is given to a professional or volunteer whose dedication and achievements have improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired.

The 2017 recipients were Carl R. Augusto and Rebecca Coakley. The text below comes from the AFB press release announcing the two winners.

Carl R. Augusto

"Carl Augusto recently retired after 25 years of service as AFB's president and CEO. Augusto, a longtime champion of people with disabilities and a preeminent leader in the field of blindness, forged numerous strategic partnerships and alliances within the vision loss community and beyond to address critical issues and expand opportunities for people with vision loss."

Rebecca Coakley

"Rebecca Coakley is the director of outreach at West Virginia University Eye Institute and director of the Children's Vision Rehabilitation Program (CVRP), which has provided a template for low vision services across the country. She has also established a low vision program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital to serve children with low vision in Ohio, as well as a Summer Institute to teach independent living skills to young children who are blind or have low vision. Coakley presents in the area of low vision nationwide and has chaired several task forces to establish low vision projects in other states."

Final Thoughts

This exciting conference offered many educational sessions, exhibits, and awards for very deserving people. The 2018 AFB Leadership Conference will be held in Oakland, California, April 5-7, 2018.

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Conference Coverage

CSUN 2017: Observations of a Conference Newbie

Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of attending several assistive technology conferences, but this year was the first time I attended a CSUN conference. As a general rule, anything that is highly spoken of by others never quite meets up to the hype, but CSUN is definitely the exception. Even before I left home, I was struck by the well-formatted, accessible conference information available for download in a variety of file formats. I chose DAISY, and placed hotel menus, exhibit hall information, and session schedules on my Victor Reader Stream for easy access. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the conference with my wife, who is sighted, and she commented on the well-designed layout of the exhibit hall map that was provided in both print and braille. From the vendors at the exhibit area to the presenters of the many sessions available at the conference, the energy and excitement was palpable.

Last year, like many AccessWorld readers, I experienced the conference vicariously through podcasts and blog posts such as those provided by Blind Bargains, and I was excited about all of the new technology that was promised at CSUN 2016. This year, my mission was to find out who had managed to deliver on past promises made, and who had new products to show off for the first time. There is no way for me to talk about everything I experienced at CSUN 2017, but here are a few of my thoughts.

Braille Momentum Still Going at CSUN 2017

At last year's CSUN conference, HumanWare announced the BrailleNote Touch, a new notetaker based on the Android operating system while retaining many of the familiar features of the company's earlier notetakers. I had the opportunity to evaluate the BrailleNote Touch for the August 2016 issue of AccessWorld. This year, HumanWare announced the upcoming release of version 3 of the BrailleNote Touch software. Among many other features, the company will be able to update various apps in the Touch's Keysoft suite rather than requiring the user to wait for a major update of the product.

Not to be outdone by HumanWare, HIMS, Inc. announced a new notetaker of its own at this year's CSUN conference. The BrailleSense Polaris, whose name is derived from the Polaris suite of Google products that it runs, also retains many of the best-loved features of the company's earlier notetaking products, while taking advantage of Google's Lollipop operating system to bring cutting-edge technology to assistive technology devices that, in years past, were not known for keeping up with mainstream advancements. HIMS plans to ship the BrailleSense Polaris sometime this spring, and AccessWorld hopes to evaluate the product shortly.

VFO, formerly Freedom Scientific, was showing off its newest notetaker as well, although the ElBraille is not yet shipping in the US, and a price for the unit has not yet been announced. I was able to take a look at both the 14- and 40-cell models of ElBraille. While the 14-cell unit is able to be physically disconnected from the Focus 14 Braille display to which it is attached, the 40-cell model is hard-wired to the Focus 40 braille display to which it is connected. I was told by product developer Adi Kushnir that this is due to differences in the way both braille displays are designed. Unlike both the HIMS and HumanWare notetakers, the ElBraille is based on Windows 10 rather than the Android operating system.

Another notetaker promised last year, but still not shipping, is NeoBraille. When I visited the booth, there was a lot going on and I wasn't able to really get a good feel for the unit. Fortunately, Blind Bargains has a blog post and podcast that will give you much more information than I can. One of NeoBraille's selling points is its ability to work with Amazon's Alexa product.

The biggest surprise for me was my reaction to what was possibly the most anticipated product at the conference—the Orbit Reader 20 from the American Printing House for the Blind. I am someone who generally likes as many braille cells under my fingers as I can get, but this 20-cell braille display felt like something I could actually use. One of the things I had heard was that the refresh rate on this unit would be slower than that of more expensive models, and I expected that this would bother me. In practical terms, I found that the display refreshed quite quickly. The exhibit hall where I tested the unit was very loud, and I was unable to hear the cells refreshing—something that I am told is rather a pleasant sound. I was a bit thrown off by the lack of cursor routing buttons above the display, and the representatives at the booth did not actually know how to use the unit, so I didn't get a feel for how to use the product. I was told that the commands are very similar to those of the company's Refreshabraille unit. The Orbit Reader 20 is not yet shipping, and I don't know an exact price, but I understand that the unit will sell for around $500. For that price, I could definitely see myself owning this braille display.

Read a review of the Orbit Reader 20 from the October, 2016 issue of AccessWorld.

A Graphic Illustration of Universal Design at CSUN 2017

Imagine with me for a moment that you are ten years old. You have taken a school field trip to an aquarium, and you are hearing all the sighted children around you talking about the whales they are seeing. You might ask yourself, "Just how big is a whale, anyway?" Even if you are told that whales can be 100 feet long, how can you really wrap your mind around that distance? Now suppose that all of the children in your group cluster around a whale model. As they touch the model's body, a human voice announces the various body parts out loud. There are even sounds associated with various parts of the whale's body such as the clicking noise that emanates from its throat, or the water that comes from its blow hole. Imagine that, as a blind child, you can interact with this model in the same way as your sighted counterparts. Your disability vanishes in an instant. You can feel the length of the whale's body, and even touch a model of a swimmer that is depicted nearby. You then begin to understand just how small a human is compared to a whale. Using 3-D printing technology, sensors, and recorded prompts, the people at Touch Graphics are making the scenario I just described a reality. They have also produced maps of indoor locations as well as a map of the United States. The session that I attended had me sitting on the edge of my seat, and I will confess that my ability to interact with the whale model described above unleashed my inner child for just a moment. I can't wait to see what this innovative company comes up with next.

En-Vision America Makes a Great Product Even Better

In August, 2016, I evaluated the id mate Galaxy from En-Vision America for AccessWorld. This bar code scanner impressed me so much that I eventually purchased the product. I was pleased to learn a recent update to the id mate Galaxy now allows users to price match products from five stores including Amazon and Walmart. It would be easy enough for En-Vision America to simply stick to updating the database of product information available when a user scans an item, but they have decided to continue innovating. I will be eager to update my unit and check out this newest feature.

Sessions Are Key at CSUN

I was only able to attend a fraction of the sessions available at this year's CSUN conference, but I was able to attend a couple sessions presented by Amazon. I was impressed with the work they have been doing with regard to making eBooks more accessible than ever. Regardless of your device, you should be able to load a book into the Kindle app and begin reading. I was pleased to learn that hyperlinks in a book are now accessible—something that was not true in iOS previously. It had been a while since I took a look at the Kindle app for iOS, but when I opened it up on my iPhone after the session, I immediately saw major improvements. I can't wait to find a good book and begin reading!

I approached this year's CSUN conference with wide-eyed wonder and I was not disappointed. I plan to return in the future, and I am excited to see what new surprises await.

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Conference Coverage

CSUN 2017: Technology Highlights

Among the pleasures of the annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference is that it is diverse enough to be whatever you, the attendee, want it to be. For some, it's a place to get business deals done, or to do a bit of professional and personal networking. For a large group of attendees, it's a week of learning, chock full of sessions on topics ranging from Web accessibility and document-building, to the latest in navigation innovation for people who are blind. CSUN also provides one of the highest-profile opportunities for accessibility advocates to interact with major mainstream tech companies including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. Finally, if you're in the market to purchase assistive technology for yourself or an organization, there's an exhibit hall, chock full of innovative new devices, and the latest versions of old favorites. This year, my fourth at CSUN, I worked the exhibit hall, seeking an answer to the question, "What's new and cool for people with blindness and low vision?"

Because even the exhibit hall is too big to contain a single conference narrative, I decided to organize my show picks into categories. This year's conference, perhaps more than any of the three others I've attended, lacked a unifying theme. At the same time, there was a lot going on in the hall, and much of it was innovative. That innovation, and the brisk level of traffic in the hall, bodes well for the assistive technology industry, even in a time when some observers worry about company mergers and even potential industry contraction.

A Couple of Big Ones

As usual, there were a few products at CSUN that attracted mass attention, mostly because they were attached to well-known names. KNFB Reader for Windows brought the popular mobile scanning app to the desktop, and to mobile devices running Windows, too. Users can scan and hear documents read aloud, just as they can on iOS and Android. The $20 CSUN special had a lot to do with the KNFB buzz. The price for the Windows version settled at $99 after the conference. Amazon, a company with a mixed, but improving, track record in accessibility, debuted its partnership with NV Access, which gives NVDA screen reader users access to the Kindle for PC app. Amazon has also extended its Voice View screen reader technology to the Fire TV line of streaming devices.

The Trend Exemplifiers

In big booths and small, voice assistants were all over the CSUN exhibit hall. Vendors have incorporated Amazon's Alexa assistant into a variety of AT devices. TrySight's Aries Smart Reader scanning device is aimed at older users, who may have lower levels of computer literacy. The simple device, which is completely controlled by six large, low-vision-friendly buttons, reads documents placed under its camera, and also has Alexa built in. You'll also find Alexa support in braille devices, including NeoBraille. For more on standout braille products at CSUN, read Jamie Pauls' CSUN picks, elsewhere in this issue. I also encountered Google Home on the CSUN floor. The competition between voice assistants from Amazon and Google seems to be benefiting users of assistive technology.

Timepieces, too, were a CSUN thing. Dot announced the Dot Watch at last year's conference. It was billed as the world's first refreshable braille timepiece. But Dot wasn't able to ship the product last year. This year's CSUN demo was a lot closer to release, and pre-orders are open. The company says products will be shipping in the second week of April. The four-cell watch face uses individual braille pins to represent watch functions graphically. The device supports Bluetooth, and can be integrated with iOS or Android smartphones. It doesn't operate as an input device, but you can receive notifications from a connected phone. There's an open source API, which will allow app developers to build in support for the Dot watch. The Dot supports custom watch bands that you can buy from the company. Acustica, which also hails from Europe, aims to bring the mystique of the Swiss watch to people with vision loss. It's an analog talking watch that also vibrates to indicate the time. It's shock- and water-resistant, and supports a selection of bands. The company's website and aesthetic are decidedly fashionable. Acustica says the watch will be available in the US during the fall of 2017. Sunu's Band Ultrasonic watch focuses on indoor and outdoor navigation. Built-in sensors, along with apps from Sunu and from third parties provide location information and will, according to the company, soon also support fitness tracking.

Some Boutique-y Offerings

Many trade shows include at least a few booths that defy explanation, but nonetheless get people talking. The list of "did you see…?" products on the CSUN floor this year included a wearable keyboard, and a way for some people to potentially regain their vision. Instead of a tray with set of keys arranged in a QWERTY pattern, the Tap Keyboard is a Bluetooth device you wear on your hand. Tap on any flat surface, using 31 keyboard combinations, to type text on a computer or mobile device. The company says learning to use the keyboard requires a couple of days to master. The device is intended as an alternative to onscreen keyboards on mobile devices. The product is set to ship in August. Tap says the device will sell for between $100 and $200.

A very different conversation starter at CSUN was Second Sight Medical Product's approach to restoring vision via high-tech devices and surgery. The company's current product is the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis system. The implanted device aims to provide artificial vision to those with retinitis pigmentosa or other degenerative retinal diseases. The system consists of a device that is surgically implanted in and around the eye, along with a video camera that transmits visual information to the implant. Once implanted, the device allows a user to see and differentiate objects like doors and windows, links on a crosswalk, and people or objects. The device does not provide enough vision for facial recognition or reading. The company says improvements to the device are made via a software upgrade to the battery-powered video processing unit. The retail cost of the device is $144,000, excluding required surgery. The procedure and device are FDA-approved. Second Sight says that some users can get the device through private insurance, or via Medicare. Later this year, Second Sight intends to debut Orion, a cortical stimulator, which may offer vision restoration for people with vision loss due to a variety of causes, so long as the patient has an intact visual cortex. The company is currently enrolling users in a clinical trial.

Digital Magnification Roundup

Magnifiers, both portable and desktop varieties, always play a large role on the CSUN exhibit floor. Lots of companies sell them, and most offer multiple configurations and price points. This year's crop of updated products featured touch screens, devices based on Windows or Android tablets, and upgraded cameras that provide full HD. Portability, too, continues to be important. Even desktop devices were billed as transportable. Many fold down to fit into a backpack or case. Rehan Electronics, an Irish company whose desktop magnifiers are newly available in the US, showed off the Acuity, a 22-inch desktop with a touch screen and OCR. Reinecker showed off its updated Mezzo transportable magnifier line, with updated camera options, and displays ranging from 16 to 24 inches. Baum's new Visio 500 magnifier is designed for the tight spaces of a cubicle or other office work space. It's designed to allow the user to place a computer keyboard in front of the magnifier's x-y table, and to share a screen between the magnifier and computer. TrySight, which debuted Android-based magnifiers at last year's CSUN, arrived this year with a Windows-based magnifier/tablet. The Mercury 12 is billed as a laptop replacement, and folds down to resemble one when not in use. NorthState AT also showed a Windows-based tablet, theirs is a 10-inch model, along with a 10-inch Android model.

Enhanced Vision, whose MoJo device I wrote about for the February issue of AccessWorld, plans to bring back the popular Jordy head-mounted magnification device. The company says the new Jordy will feature upgraded technology and a significantly lower price. Ship dates and pricing have not yet been announced.

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Product Evaluations and Guides

Live on the Edge, or Have an Ultra Lifestyle?: An In-depth Review of HIMS and BAUM Braille Displays

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on the Blind Bargains website; it is being republished by permission with minor edits.

Some of today's braille displays do a lot more than just display braille, but which one is right for your needs? In this in-depth article, I compare the VarioUltra from BAUM and the Braille Edge from HIMS. I chose these 2 units because they both have 40 cells of braille and are what the market seems to now call "smart displays," a term given to devices that do not perform all of the functions of a traditional notetaker such as playing music, GPS navigation, downloading email directly to the device, or browsing the Internet. At the same time, these devices are able to accomplish more than just connecting to an external gadget such as a computer, tablet, or smart phone. While these braille devices are in the middle in terms of functionality, they're also in the middle in terms of their price point when compared with other categories of braille devices. This article will examine both the Braille Edge and VarioUltra for their connectivity, support while connecting with some external devices, their internal applications, and physical appearance.

Note that this is not a manual, nor is it intended to be something, which will teach the reader how to use specific features. Both companies have done a fine job with user documentation. My intent here is only to compare the features and functionality of both devices. Though most of the information below is factual in nature, any opinions expressed are those of the author only and do not reflect the views of any other person or entity.

Financial Damages

The first question people may ask is what will the price be for these devices? The Edge sells for $2,795, while the VarioUltra 40 sells for $3,995. It may be worth noting that there is also a 20-cell version of the VarioUltra for $2,395. Braille Edge does not offer a smaller counterpart at the time of this writing. Yes, I acknowledge these are high prices for most individuals to pay, but I also am writing this for those who may have the opportunity to get one of these devices through a funding source such as a state vocational rehabilitation agency, an employer, the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, or some other funding source.

Getting Physical

The Braille Edge 40 measures 12.2 inches long by 4 inches wide by 0.86 inches thick, and weighs 1.73 pounds. The VU40 measures 12.4 inches long by 3.5 inches wide and 0.7 inches thick, and weighs 1.1 pounds. In summary, the VarioUltra is slightly longer, but weighs less and is not as wide when compared to the Edge. It's beyond the scope of this article to give a complete physical description of each braille display, but you can find this information in their respective manuals.

Regarding the keyboard, the spacing of the Perkins-style keys is much closer together with the Edge. The Spacebar sits between dots 1 and 4, and the dots 1-8 appear in their typical fashion. With the VarioUltra, the spacebars (yes there are two) are not so close to the keyboard, but reside on the bottom of the surface of the device with the cursor routing buttons and braille display in between them and the rest of the Perkins-style keyboard. I find either keyboard comfortable while typing, though both require a bit of adjustment. Users with very small hands may find it a challenge to hit the spacebars with their thumbs on the VarioUltra, for example. The opposite may be true for those who have bigger hands, who may find the keys on the Braille Edge keyboard to be too crammed together.

As for navigation, the VarioUltra has what BAUM calls a "Navistick," which allows the user to have arrow keys. The Braille Edge does not have this exact feature, but has a set of arrow keys located on either side of the Perkins style keyboard. The functions of these arrows and the Navistick are similar; they're just different approaches to accomplishing the same thing. One difference is that you can press down on the Navistick to activate items; there is no way to do this with the Edge's arrow keys.

The VarioUltra has switches for both locking the keyboard and for jumping between Notetaker mode and Braille Display mode. It also has a micro USB connection for charging and moving files to and from the internal flash disc to a PC or Android device, and a standard type-A USB port, which allows you to connect either a wired keyboard or thumb drive.

The Braille Edge has a slot for inserting an SD card, a port for connecting the included AC adapter, and a mini USB port for slow charging and connecting to a PC or Mac as a terminal for a screen reader. It does not have the ability to get files from a thumb drive and does not appear to have the ability to read and write on the SD card through another device.

Both devices have some additional features that differentiate them from each other. The VarioUltra has system keys to help you access certain functions quickly such as the time, battery status, switching Bluetooth channels (more on this later), etc. The Braille Edge has something unique as well. To either side of the Spacebar on the Edge, you will find four rectangular keys. These keys perform different functions depending on what you are doing. For example, by pressing what is called the F4 key, you can activate menus for an open internal program. With JAWS, the F2 key will activate the Alt key. The VarioUltra has some similar functionality for its internal programs. Pressing the S3 key will activate menus as the F4 key does on the Edge, but it does not appear to work when the device is connected with external devices. I'll talk more about these differences in the Getting Connected section of this review.


Both The Edge and VarioUltra come with a case that has a strap. The case for the Edge is like a small laptop bag. The only way to secure the device in the carrying bag is to zip it up, thus preventing access to the display on the go. You can, however, purchase an Executive Products case for the Edge from HIMS for $98. This case fits around the device nicely and allows you to operate the display fully while leaving the Edge secure.

A well-designed case comes with the VarioUltra. It somewhat resembles the cases made by Executive Products, in that the cover closes with magnets. When open, the case allows you to access all keys and ports while on the go and also keeps the device secure to your shoulder. While it doesn't contain a zipper pocket on the front of the case like the Executive Products one does, it also saves you from having to buy another accessory.

Internal Programs

Both the Braille Edge and VarioUltra contain a small suite of internal programs to help you accomplish tasks that, while you could do them on your smart phone or other connected device, can be carried out more effectively using just the braille display. The VarioUltra and Edge both have the following internal features: word processor, calculator, date and time, alarm, timer, and stop watch. The VarioUltra also has a PDF reader and an Excel viewer while the Braille Edge includes a scheduler application.

User Manuals

Both companies offer user manuals on their websites. BAUM offers a version in Microsoft Word, PDF, and as an HTML webpage. It was last updated in February of 2017. The Edge manual is available in PDF and Word formats, but has not been updated since 2013, so does not include some of the changes released in 2016. For example, there are no instructions on how to use the new Test mode to exercise the braille cells.

File Support and Transfer

Both braille displays have support for DOC, DOCX, RTF, TXT, and BRF files. For Word files, read-only support is offered. The VarioUltra allows for direct editing and saving of RTF files, but the Edge requires you to save any changes you make on RTF files as a plain text document. In addition to these formats, the VarioUltra supports the reading of PDF, Excel, and PowerPoint files.

So you've taken those important meeting notes and have just been handed a PowerPoint presentation on a thumb drive, or perhaps you've downloaded that novel from Bookshare that you have wanted to read for ages. Since neither the VarioUltra nor the Braille Edge have Internet connectivity, you need a way to move files to and from them. With the Braille Edge, your only option is to use an SD card. Many laptops come with SD card readers, or you can purchase one online for around $15. There is even an SD card reader you can get which will work with Android or iOS.

With the VarioUltra, you have a few more options, though an SD card isn't one of them. You can connect directly to a PC while in Notetaker mode and the VarioUltra will show up as a storage device on your PC. You can freely copy files to and from the VarioUltra without trouble, though the process seems a bit slower than when using a thumb drive. Speaking of thumb drives, you can also connect those to the VarioUltra and copy files to the braille display's internal memory. Running out of storage shouldn't be an issue, as you can store up to 32 gigabytes of data on the VarioUltra flash disk.

Battery Life

Battery life is one area where you will see there is a compromise for the smaller size of the VarioUltra. With normal use (meaning in and out of braille display mode and taking notes throughout the day), I get around 9 or 10 hours of battery life out of the VarioUltra. This is accurately described in the manual. With the bigger Edge you also get more battery life. Doing the same types of activities, I usually get around 18 to 20 hours of usage. I've easily offset the lack of battery life on the VarioUltra with a small external battery pack, but it is something else to carry around, which can be annoying to some people.


Both the Braille Edge and VarioUltra have a word processor or notepad program depending on which device you are referring to. Both also support the file types listed above. This is great for me because I download BRF files from specific sources, and can read them directly on the braille display without consuming the battery of my connected phone or draining it by leaving Bluetooth on. It's also great to be able to turn the device on and immediately start writing a new note. This is one spot where the Edge seems to shine, since it's possible to configure what happens as soon as you turn on the device. So if you want it to always be ready to jot down notes, you can set it up to do so. The VarioUltra does not have this option, but you can press and hold System key 1 as soon as you turn the device on to launch the word processor. The VarioUltra also has a unique feature in that you can have multiple documents open at once.

Reading files is pretty straightforward. Both devices have the ability to find specific text, auto-scroll, and navigate by various elements. Bookmarking is available on both braille displays, but you can only set one bookmark for each file on the VarioUltra. The Edge allows you to set several different marks in the same file. This is great for when you have a reference book where you would like to keep several bookmarks, and I will be submitting this as a suggestion to BAUM for a future update.

For fun, or something a geek like me would call fun, I loaded the same files on the Edge's SD card and the VarioUltra's internal memory. With a 516KB BRF file, it took the VarioUltra 23 seconds to load. On the Braille Edge, that same file loaded in just 5 seconds. With a 208KB plain text file, it took the VarioUltra 5 seconds to open, and took the Edge 21. With a 56KB RTF file, it took the VarioUltra 2 seconds to load, and the Braille Edge 14. With a one-page accessible PDF file, it took the VarioUltra less than 1 second to load, a format that is not supported on the Edge. A Power Point presentation of 40 slides with some pictures took about 6 seconds to load on the VarioUltra, and, again, wouldn't do so on the Edge at all.

Editing files seems to be about equal in nature, though I felt there was a steeper learning curve with the VarioUltra. To start with, recall I mentioned that there are two spacebars on the VarioUltra. The left Spacebar is used to carry out commands on the internally available applications, while the right one is used to insert spaces in to your document. I found that making sure to hit the left Spacebar in conjunction with keyboard commands took some getting used to, but I also noticed I wasn't executing commands by accident because I was hitting the Spacebar too fast.

In the latest version of the Edge firmware, HIMS has introduced a feature called "Typing mode" which addresses this issue in a different way. The command structure itself is also a bit different than the conventional one on the VarioUltra. For example, on most notetakers and with most systems other than Android supporting braille, Spacebar with dot 4 will take you to the next line. This is true of the Edge, but the left Spacebar and dot 4 will take you to the next character on the VarioUltra.

The editing functions and the menu structures of both word processing applications are similar. For example, both the VarioUltra and Braille Edge have submenus of File, Edit, Insert, and Tools. Both word processors have the ability to copy, cut, paste, undo, select all, mark blocks of text, and insert the date and time. The Edge offers the ability to insert a calculation, while the VarioUltra allows for the insertion of paragraph and page breaks, a feature useful in RTF files. The VarioUltra also offers the ability to highlight specific blocks of text and then jump directly to them from within another submenu called Navigate. There are also a few settings that the VarioUltra has included in the word processor that are available elsewhere on the Edge, such as default braille tables and type of text input and output.

One of the great things about both pieces of equipment is that documents can be composed on each and then shared with other devices. With the Braille Edge, you can write in contracted braille, and have that file saved as a plane text document for viewing on a mainstream device. With the VarioUltra, this is also possible, but you can also do the editing in contracted braille and then save as an RTF document. So, for example, I can take notes at a meeting in contracted braille with the VarioUltra, save them as an RTF document, copy them directly to my PC, and send on to a colleague. There is no need for an SD card or even a thumb drive.


One of the major advantages to devices like this is that they can connect to external mainstream pieces of technology, but don't have all the bells and whistles other notetakers have, which allows the user to save some money. While it was not possible for me to test every configuration, I have done some comparing and listing of notes below. All testing was done using the latest VarioUltra 1.33 firmware released in July of 2016 and the October 2016 version of the Braille Edge 1.1 firmware.

Both the Edge and VarioUltra have the ability to be connected to more than one device at a time. For the Braille Edge, you can connect to one Bluetooth and one USB device and switch among them just fine. I did this a few times running JAWS on a PC via USB and Mac with VoiceOver, along with being connected to my iPhone. The VarioUltra, however, can be connected to up to five devices and switch among them seamlessly. One can connect to a single USB device, and choose between four different Bluetooth channels. I've had three Bluetooth channels active at the same time along with one USB device, and was able to flip among the connected devices with relative ease. In addition, according to BAUM, when version 1.4 of the firmware is released, you will be able to unlock your iOS or Android device by activating the Bluetooth channel on the VarioUltra. That is a first, and will be quite handy for those with more than one connected device.


iOS 10.2.1 was used to conduct this review. The pairing process with the Braille Edge is a bit more straightforward in that you go to Settings/General/Accessibility/VoiceOver/Braille and pair in the traditional way using the PIN code 0000. With the VarioUltra, you will first need to pair the device through Bluetooth settings and then go in and pair it again with VoiceOver. For details on how to do this, please see the appropriate section of the manual.

Once paired, both devices use the same set of commands to carry out VoiceOver equivalent actions. For example, flick right by pressing Spacebar with dot 4, mute speech by pressing Spacebar with M. Text input also works the same as it does on all braille displays connected to iOS, both with the quirky translation and the somewhat messed up US English contracted braille table. However, both products have some workarounds for the translation issues.

HIMS has included a popular feature found in all of their updated products that connect to external technology known as Terminal Clipboard. This feature only seems to work for Bluetooth, as I couldn't get it to work with USB on Windows with JAWS or VoiceOver on the Mac. This feature allows you to type utilizing the internal notepad application, make your edits as needed, and then press Enter to send the text to the connected device. It's important that you be in a text field on your iOS device before starting the transfer. It's also important that your braille codes match up. For example, if you are using contracted braille on iOS, you will need to use it on the Edge as well. I've had success transferring about 2 K of data with this method, and I have also had it not go through from time to time. The times it hasn't, it was user error, because although I was on a text field, the cursor wasn't blinking to indicate that it was ready to receive input.

BAUM has included a slightly different take on this feature. First, write something in the word processor. Once done, highlight whatever text you would like to send to your connected iOS device, copy it to the clipboard, switch back to braille display mode, and press the S2 key along with D1 (see below) to paste the text. BAUM says you can transfer up to 10 KB of text at a time, but I've only tested it with about 3, which is equivalent to about two printed pages. It took about 3 minutes to enter the text, but it was all there. The same rules about braille codes and text fields written above still apply. It would be nice if BAUM could also include a quicker way to do this, such as what is found on the Terminal Clipboard feature for shorter bits of text, so that one doesn't have to switch between modes and press a lot of different keyboard commands.

Some things are unique about each device when connected. For example, the Braille Edge has 4 keys on either side of the Spacebar that do specific functions. With iOS, they can move you to different rotor options and toggle braille input and output. The four keys to the right of the Spacebar will scroll you in any of the four directions by page. This can come in handy if you just want to hit a button to scroll in a certain direction, and cannot recall the keyboard command.

The VarioUltra has some distinctive functionality as well. On either side of the braille display you will find three keys, which are called D keys. You can press any combination of these to achieve the equivalent of the corded command. For example, D1-3-4 will mute and unmute speech. One of the really nice things about the VarioUltra is that you can check the battery status and time while in braille display mode, by pressing S2 with the left Spacebar. With the Edge, you must go out of Terminal mode and press Spacebar with P, and then go back in to Terminal mode.

The Arrow keys on the Edge and the Navistick both allow for equal navigation with iOS. The one difference is that you can press down on the Navistick to activate items, which is not possible with the Arrow keys on the Braille Edge.


Very limited testing was carried out on Android, because I don't have an updated Android device to conduct a long-term evaluation. A Nexus 7 with Lollipop was used. Note that this is two Android versions behind the current OS, but from what I'm told, BrailleBack behaves the same way on the current version of the OS. The version of BrailleBack used was 0.95.1-prod which was released in December 2015.

Connecting is standard for the Edge. If you have paired a device with BrailleBack before, the process will be familiar and can be accomplished with a few simple steps.

Just like with iOS, or any other Bluetooth connection for that matter, the VarioUltra requires you pair it first through the Android device and then BrailleBack. Also, the current public version of BrailleBack does not have native support for the VarioUltra, so you will need to set the VarioUltra to emulate a VarioConnect. Once the connection is established, however, you can switch the emulation back to VarioUltra. First turn off BrailleBack, then switch the emulation back to the VarioUltra on the braille display, and then re-enable BrailleBack. If you leave it connected emulating a VarioConnect, the display will be funky on the 20-cell model, as BrailleBack thinks it's working with a 24-cell display. Also note that if you do not wish to complete the steps above to change the emulation back, you will need to re-pair any devices that were previously set up when it was emulating a VarioUltra, as it is not currently possible to emulate different displays on different channels.

Simply beginning to type after pairing either device will bring up an Android dialogue asking if you would like to enable input for this device. Select the appropriate option, and off you go using uncontracted braille input. The lack of contracted braille input is not a BAUM or HIMS limitation by the way, but one of the current public release of BrailleBack.

One of the challenges of Android is that it's hard to know what navigation options are available with what display without doing some research. In both the case of the Edge and VarioUltra you can do most navigation just fine. There are commands for moving to the previous and next item, scrolling, activating items, activating the Home button and long pressing on an item among several others. Press Spacebar with L to launch the help document with a specific command list for each device.

Support for braille doesn't even fully exist in some native Google apps. Again, this is of no fault to HIMS or BAUM and will require work on the part of the developers of BrailleBack.

As noted in the above section on iOS, both braille devices come with the ability to transfer internal data to the connected mobile device. However, the braille codes must match, so it's not possible to achieve contracted braille input on Android with either device. You must type in uncontracted braille, and set the internal tables accordingly.

The Mac

Mac OS 10.2 Sierra was used to write this review. Behavior was the same on USB and Bluetooth for both devices. However, if you are running anything prior to Sierra, you can only use the VarioUltra in Bluetooth mode and must use emulation. The Braille Edge supports OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and later with both Bluetooth and USB.

The D keys on the VarioUltra function differently on a Mac than they do on iOS. For example, D4 will stop interacting with an item, while D6 will start. D2 and D5 are the same as on all other systems, as they will pan the braille back and forth. All other commands work as expected, and the same comparison with the Arrow keys and Navistick made with iOS applies to Mac OS.

The F keys found on the Edge have a lot of different functions on Mac OS. For example, pressing the F5 key will perform the command VO + J, which will jump the VoiceOver and braille cursor to linked items. This is particularly handy when needing to jump directly from the list of messages in the Mail app to the text of a specific message. There is no braille keyboard equivalent to this keyboard option. See the manual for other specific F key functions, which can come in handy when having one-button access to certain parts of the operating system.


For this article, NVDA 2017.1 was used on a Windows 10 Toshiba laptop with a 128 GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and a 2 GHZ processor.

NVDA has support for both the VarioUltra and the Edge. Like Android, contracted braille input is not supported on either device. With the Braille Edge, you will need to locate the drivers on the HIMS website and then install them before you can use The Edge with NVDA. Set up is easy enough, and, again, behavior whether connected via USB or Bluetooth seems the same for both products.

Using the Braille Edge 40, I found that most navigation options worked well enough, but that as operation continued beyond carrying out a few commands, NVDA quit responding to them, for example Spacebar with 4-5-6 and Spacebar with 1-2-3. There seemed to be very little rhyme or reason to what would trigger this behavior, and the only way to fix it seemed to be to restart NVDA. Also of some disappointment is the lack of utilization of the eight function keys on the Edge. I suspect this could have something to do with the fact that all HIMS products are supported under one Windows driver, but this is also the case with JAWS, and as you will read later, these function keys work well with the latest firmware build for the Edge. My conclusion from this is that braille input on NVDA with the Braille Edge is flaky at best, and it's far from being a reliable experience. If all you want to do is read and write, you should be OK, but editing and navigating documents with the braille keyboard is where things get tricky.

With regard to the VarioUltra, installation of drivers is not required for this device as it supports something called HID mode. For the purposes of this article, all you need to know is that you can plug in the VarioUltra, select it under NVDA, and it will work. If pairing through Bluetooth, you would also follow the standard procedure for connecting a Bluetooth device and then select it appropriately in NVDA. Your navigation options are fairly limited with the VarioUltra in that you can use the Navistick to move around, type, and also use the D1 and D3 keys to move by line, but that's about all. Commands do not exist for moving around to various aspects of the screen, nor can you activate keys like the Alt key.


JAWS 18.0.2324 was used on the same computer listed in the NVDA section. Unlike NVDA, JAWS has contracted braille input, which, in my opinion, is far superior to any of the other systems tested. It not only interprets contracted braille correctly, but I'm also able to make corrections and it understands these corrections based on context, unlike on Mac OS and iOS. There is a hefty price tag on JAWS of course, which cannot be overlooked.

Regardless of which braille display you use, you will need to install a driver specifically for JAWS. You can find these on the BAUM or HIMS websites. Once installed, you will then need to go to the Braille Options menu and add the appropriate display.

The VarioUltra has all sorts of navigational commands that you can use, and works well with contracted braille input. In fact, I'm writing this section of the article exclusively with the VarioUltra's keyboard, and it works very well. The command structure is a bit different than what you would expect. For example, you need to press D1 and D4 to jump to the top of a file, and D4 with D6 to get to the bottom. The developers have worked to take full advantage of the D keys while using JAWS. There are commands for Alt Tab, Alt, toggling input and output modes of braille, and many others. The driver also seems quite stable; I've been composing this paragraph and the one above it without any trouble at all, even making some minor corrections.

Now, I have switched to the Braille Edge to compose this section. It's equally as responsive as the VarioUltra, though I find the keyboard to be a bit louder. Certainly, as someone who has had to adapt to different braille keyboards as a tech instructor, neither of these keyboards bothers me. Where the Edge stands out to me as a JAWS user is that the command structure follows the more conventional format. Spacebar with L does what we expect, as does Spacebar with dot 4 and many others. Beyond that, I must again bring up those eight rectangular keys to the left and right of the Spacebar. With JAWS, you have less of a need to use the keyboard on your PC because you have direct access to functions such as Alt, Tab, Control, Escape, and a few others. If you hit F2 and F4 together, for example, you will be hitting Alt and Tab together to switch windows. This functionality exists on the VarioUltra, but it involves a set of commands that are different. You also have access to an entirely different set of commands when you disable what is called Typing mode on the Edge. This allows for other functions to be carried out such as select all, copy, cut, paste, etc. This is all done without the use of the standard keyboard, and is not available on the VarioUltra. I also spoke of the Navistick when comparing the Arrow keys on the Edge. These also function the same on JAWS.


First, conclude that I write too much. Second, keep in mind that neither of these devices will be perfect for everyone. Your needs will determine which piece of technology would work best for you, or perhaps that neither of them would be a good fit.

Budget is always a factor, as is productivity. From a mobile user's perspective, the ability to switch between devices quickly, being able to transfer content from the internal flash disk, and having more on-board applications are solid selling points for the VarioUltra. Speaking of being portable, the weight and slimness of the VarioUltra certainly are strengths. The PowerPoint app for iOS for example, works, but the user interface is rather clunky.

On the other hand, you can save over a $1,000 by getting an Edge, and it does seem to have better support with Windows screen readers. If SD cards are your thing, the Edge may appeal more to you. Whatever direction you choose, I hope you have found this comparison helpful and useful.

Product Information

Braille Edge 40.

Manufacturer: HIMS, Inc..

Price: $2,795.

VarioUltra 40.

Manufacturer: BAUM Retec AG.

Price: $3,995.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Giving a Listen to The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew Rubery

I received my first Talking Book player sometime in 1969, about two years after I was no longer able to read most printed material. This was one of the old, black fabric-covered players, weighing about 10 pounds, with a .25-inch headphone jack located at one corner of the foldup speaker. Soon after I received my first Sony reel to reel, and I can still recall the excitement I experienced with the arrival of each new book in its heavy strapped container filled with either several reels of magnetic tape or a stack of disks snuggled in paper sleeves that usually reeked of cigarette smoke. My first Recordings for the Blind (now Learning Ally) order included 70 books I had always wanted to read, and their textbooks were critical in obtaining both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

I have witnessed a large portion of the history of Talking Books personally, from those heavy disk players to their lightweight plastic replacements, from disks to cassettes to the leap over CD titles directly, if not belatedly, to digital cartridges and downloads. I have also enjoyed an Audible subscription since late 2000, setting my 56k modem to download a book before I went to bed with the hope that it would be there come morning so I could load it onto my cutting edge Digital Audio Player. Despite my nearly half-century with Talking Books, recorded textbooks, and commercially available best sellers, there is still a lot of history I missed.

The concept of a "talking book" goes all the way back to Thomas Edison, whose very first recording was "Mary Had a Little Lamb." There's a lot of history between that first, lost recording and my latest Audible download. Happily, this history has been researched and compiled in an excellent new book from Harvard University Press, The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew Rubery.

The book is available in multiple formats: hardcover, Kindle, iBook, audiobook edition, and audio CD. I felt it only proper to obtain the audiobook version, which is produced by Blackstone Audio.

Although the book's title uses the term "Talking Book," this history is not limited to books produced by the Library of Congress and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. The author uses this term because, as you will see, originally it was a goal, a dream waiting for technology to catch up in order to be realized.


The author begins with an extended preface wrestling with these three issues surrounding recorded books:

  • Does an audiobook have standing as an actual book?
  • The public's changing reception and acceptance of audiobooks.
  • The still ongoing controversy over whether listening to a book counts as reading.

Rubery presents the facts without judgment, though in my personal opinion there is one area in which the facts are incomplete. When discussing whether or not listening to a book is the same as reading, the author cites studies of braille readers in which they discover that the visual cortex of such readers is stimulated the same as it is with print readers. In people who listen to books these areas are not stimulated. There seems to be little research as to what happens when a blind person listens to an audiobook. Myself, I often find my eyes tracking from left to right as I listen—especially when I am listening to synthesized speech, where the line breaks are more obvious—and the letters and words appear in my mind's eye. I asked a blind friend who has never read print and who is a proficient braille reader about this—he relates the same phenomenon, only with braille letters and words. Interestingly, both of us find ourselves visualizing the words of overheard conversations when we are bored.

The remainder of the book is divided into three parts: Origins of Audiobooks, Talking Books for the Blind, and Audiobooks Go Mainstream.

Origins of Audiobooks

The very first recording Thomas Edison ever made was a recitation of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which can be considered the first audiobook. The original recording was lost, but Edison did re-record it, and you can hear this recording on YouTube.

Since recording technology could only capture minutes of sound at the time, the dream of audiobooks was just that, a dream. But it is fun, learning about some of the grandiose dreams some people had, including hats containing audio encyclopedias, stores stocked with "Books in bottles," and public books with tubes leading in through the windows of nearby houses so the great works of literature could be played to all.

Talking Books for the Blind

The lion's share of this book is devoted to the history of Talking Books for the Blind, which were originally sponsored here in the US by our own American Foundation for the Blind, and in Great Britain by the Royal National Institute of Blind People. In both cases it took the blinded veterans of World War I to spur action. Prior to the war, blindness was not considered a societal obligation. But blinded veterans were a different matter.

The first Talking Book produced by AFB and the Library of Congress was a recording of "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was followed by such patriotic documents as the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. I am told that the Library of Congress still has copies of these old recordings. I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage them to create a sampler book of some of these recordings.

At first it was deemed that all recorded books should be instructional and inspirational. Very little fiction was allowed at first, but readers began to demand it, and so things changed.

Rubery offers a number of snippets of correspondents from early readers. I was especially amused by the woman who excoriated the service severely for sending her what she considered to be a filthy book, but ended her letter by requesting she be sent another book by the same author.

The book covers the issues of book selection, censorship—both sexual and political—and the move from active to passive narration, where the narrator does his or her best to remain in the background. It also delves into the initial difficulties encountered when seeking rights. For example, both Margret Mitchell and Rudyard Kipling resisted for years having their books recorded for the blind, as both were convinced the recordings would wind up being played on the radio and thus affect future book royalties.

Initially, Helen Keller was against Talking Books, as she felt it would diminish braille literacy. However since most blind people were older and did not know braille she changed her viewpoint, and in fact, it was due to her encouragement the Library of Congress became involved.

Audiobooks Go Mainstream

Ironically, according to Rubery, it was the success of Talking Books for the Blind that for years inhibited the general public from considering audiobooks. Recorded books were for the blind, and they were a lazy way to read, and it wasn't really reading, anyway.

Not until 1952 when an upstart recording company called Caedmon Audio released Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales," did people begin listening to what were then called "spoken word" recordings. Indeed, I find on Wikipedia that the original recording was a 2008 selection for the United States National Recording Registry, stating that it is "credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States." I'd like to amend that to "commercially available audiobooks." Other famous authors followed, including Carl Sandburg and Arthur C. Clark. An LPs still-limited space meant there were considerable abridgements, which led to adaptions, and even dramatizations, with full casts, music, and sound effects.

Rubery concludes the book with a history of commercially available audiobooks, from Books on Tape all the way through books on CD and now downloadable books from various sources, including the reigning king, Audible.

The old arguments have returned: Should the works be dramatized or narrated in a neutral voice that stays out of the way of the narrative? Are we "reading" or "listening" to books, which can now even be read to us by artificial speech? There is also one new controversy not present in Talking Books for the Blind: should the complete text be recorded, or are abridgements OK?

Happily, the last of these has more or less been decided on the unabridged side of the argument. As for the other two, does it really matter? Either way, we are consuming more books, making better use of our time to "read" or "listen" on the go. Here I have to agree wholeheartedly with the author when he sums up the audiobook experience delightfully: "Audiobooks are for people who hate reading and for those of us who love reading. Audiobooks are for people who can't read, and for people who can't read enough."


When I was 16 I read what was available; these days I read what I want. If I see an interesting author on TV, or hear about a great new book on NPR's "Fresh Air," I can nearly always find it available in some accessible format immediately. I can't imagine a life without books, and this book was a real "eye-opener" as to all it took to get us from there to here.

Above all, let us not forget that, sighted or blind, for nearly all of us our first experience with books was via the spoken word—the voices of our mothers and fathers who read to us and instilled in us the joys and pleasures of a good book.

About the Author

Matthew Rubery is an audiobook historian and Professor of Modern Literature at Queen Mary University of London. He edited the essay collection Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies and co-curated "How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People," a public exhibition held at the UK's first annual Being Human festival.

Book Information

Title: The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew Rubery (Harvard University Press)

Price: Hardcover, $29.95; Kindle, $16.17; Audible, $24.47 (or free with 30 day Audible trial); audio CD, $29.95

Available from: Harvard University Press, Amazon, Audible, Barnes and Noble

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

AFB Announces the Release of the Updated and Revised Foundations of Education, Third Edition

AFB Press is pleased to announce the recent publication of the highly anticipated third edition of the essential textbook in the field of blindness and visual impairment, Foundations of Education, edited by M. Cay Holbrook, Cheryl Kamei-Hannan, and Tessa McCarthy, and authored by dozens of experts in the field of blindness and visual impairment. In this third edition of Foundations of Education, two volumes highlight the history, theory, assessment, and instructional strategies in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired. Additional resources are provided in an online learning center.

In addition to the latest information and best practices, Volume I: History and Theory of Teaching Children and Youth with Visual Impairments, includes a whole new set of chapters that provide additional perspectives on the educational system and focus on crucial topics that connect the education of students with visual impairment to the broader context of educational theory. Volume II: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, represents the application of the theories presented in Volume I, and contains additional material on planning instruction, moving from assessment to instruction, and supporting students with visual impairments in the general education classroom. Instructional strategies are also highlighted, with chapters dedicated to each area of the core or expanded core curriculum.

Completely revised and updated for the 21st century, Foundations of Education, Third Edition, also includes access to an exclusive, password-protected online resource center to supplement the print textbook. This innovative, fully accessible, web-based Learning Center houses introductory audio presentations from chapter authors, chapter overviews, learning activities, resource lists, and downloadable forms. Also included are peer-reviewed videos illustrating best practices, featuring teachers demonstrating some of the instructional strategies discussed throughout the book. Icons located throughout both volumes direct readers to these resources, which enrich this foundational textbook.

Volume I, History and Theory hardcover edition is 550 pages long and is priced at $84.95; e-books at $59.95; and online subscription at $50.95. Volume II, Instructional Strategies hardcover edition is 980 pages long and is priced at $119.95; e-books at $83.95; and online subscription at $71.95.

Sprint Accessibility Offers Accessible Devices, Affordable Plans, and Customized Customer Care to People with Vision Loss

Sprint Vision is committed to serving the blind and low vision community with accessible devices, more affordable plans, and customized customer care.

Customers who are blind or who have low vision are now eligible for discounted plans and free directory assistance. Sprint's unlimited plans are less costly than similar plans offered by other carriers, and its new "Go Flip" Simple Phone was designed with blind and low vision users in mind.

For more information about devices, customer service, and rate plans, visit the Sprint Vision webpage.

2017 M-Enabling Summit

Register today for the 6th annual M-Enabling Summit, one of the leading global conference and showcases on the East Coast dedicated to technological innovations that enable seniors and persons with disabilities to access digital content and services in new ways.

With its 2017 theme, "Making Connected Things and Services Accessible for All," the M-Enabling Summit sets the stage to promote accessible products, services, and assistive technologies. It also offers an ideal platform to network with accessibility professionals, organizations, and decision makers seeking to address compliance challenges and market development opportunities.

In the spotlight: accessibility for better branding, consumer marketing, innovation in robotics, wearables, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, IoT, smart homes, Section 508 and WCAG 2.1, as well as scaling-up accessibility in higher education, businesses, government, and smart cities.

New to the M-Enabling Summit is the addition of the IAAP Pre Conference Session taking place June 12.

Register today at the registration page.

Leader Dogs for the Blind Summer Experience Camp Application Deadline Extended to April 24th

Application Deadline Extended to April 24!

Leader Dogs for the Blind is Accepting Applications for their Free 2017 Summer Experience Camp

Summer Experience Camp is a week of outdoor fun, friendship, and skill building. The program combines physical activities like kayaking, rock wall climbing, and tandem biking with things exclusively Leader Dog—GPS training and the opportunity to spend time with future Leader Dogs. The combination will help increase your independent travel skills!

The free program is for boys and girls ages 16 and 17 who are legally blind. Leader Dog covers all costs including airfare to Michigan—and everyone receives a free HumanWare Trekker Breeze+ GPS device. Summer Experience Camp is scheduled for June 23-30, 2017. Applications are due by April 24, 2017.

For more information and to download an application, go to the Summer Experience Camp Webpage or call the Leader Dogs for the Blind client services department at 888-777-5332.

Leader Dog client Shannon Columb attended Camp several years ago; check out this YouTube video to find out what she is up to now.

Envision Names Third Incoming Class of Fellows to Conduct Post-Doctoral Research at ERI

Envision announced recently that it has awarded two new fellowships for postdoctoral research studies to Güler Arsal, a former research fellow in the Applied Cognition & Cognitive Engineering Research Group at the University of Huddersfield's School of Human & Health Sciences in the United Kingdom, and to Rajkumar Nallour Raveendran, a doctoral candidate focused on vision sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Drs. Arsal's and Raveendran's research will be based out of the Gigi and Carl Allen Envision Research Institute (ERI) and sponsored by Envision's sister National Industries for the Blind agencies ibMilwaukee and LC Industries, respectively.

"We are proud to be accepting our third incoming class of research fellows, and grateful to ibMilwaukee and LC Industries for their support," said Laura Walker, ERI Executive Director. "Through our efforts to train a new pool of researchers focused on low vision rehabilitation research, our fellows program is making a significant impact in the field. Right now, only a small portion of the eye research being conducted globally is focused on low vision rehabilitation, an area where there is great need. As our multinational ERI fellows graduate and continue their work in other places around the world, we're confident that will change."

Dr. Arsal is a native of Turkey whose study will focus on "Improving Public Transportation Accessibility: Using Cognitive Task Analysis Techniques to Generate Design Recommendations and Create Prototypes of Design Concepts." She earned both a bachelor's and master's degree in physical education and sports from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, and went on to receive her doctorate from Florida State University in sport and exercise psychology. Alex Chaparro, a professor of psychology who directs the Aging, Perception, and Performance Lab and the Regional Institute on Aging at Wichita State University, will serve as mentor for the study. Fellowship sponsor ibMilwaukee is a national manufacturer, supplier and distributor of office supplies, office space design, furniture, tools, customized kitting and promotional products in West Allis, Wisconsin, that is dedicated to empowering a diverse workforce that includes individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Rajkumar Nallour Raveendran hails from India and is scheduled to complete his Ph.D. this spring. At the ERI, he will study "Transcranial Brain Stimulation and Visual Rehabilitation." Ben Thompson, an associate professor in the optometry and vision science department at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario Canada, will serve as his mentor. Thompson studies human visual cortex development and plasticity particularly as it relates to brain-based visual disorders. Fellowship sponsor LC Industries is a Durham, North Carolina-based organization whose sole mission is to provide meaningful employment for people who are blind, offering opportunities, skills and training to help them cultivate jobs into rewarding careers.

Fellowships at the ERI provide an educational environment where appointees identify solutions to improve the quality of life for people who are blind or visually impaired. Through mentoring, the fellows are put on the fast track to independent and impactful research careers. Each fellowship is awarded for one year, with a second year contingent on progress in the first.

The ERI recently graduated its first class of fellows, Drs. Tony Succar, from Australia, and Rezaul Kareem, from Bangladesh, who researched "Restoring Functional 3D Vision in Macular Degeneration" and "Tactile Object Understanding And Characterization," respectively. In addition, both of the ERI's second class of fellows, Drs. Andrea Urqueta Alfaro, from Chile, and Arun Kumar Krishnan, from India, recently received extensions of their projects for a second year each. Dr. Alfaro is researching "Coordinated Joint Engagement, Attachment, And Haptic Development In Infants With Visual Impairments," while Dr. Krishnan is investigating "Structure-Function Relation At The Preferred Retinal Locus Of Subjects With Age-Related Macular Degeneration."

Further information about the ERI and its fellowship program can be found online on this page.

Blind Independent Diabetics Group Formed

The Blind Independence Diabetes Group (BID Group) has been created especially for blind and vision impaired diabetics. The purpose of the BID Group is to provide one location for blind diabetics to get exactly what they need. This includes award-winning Prodigy Voice meters and test strips for $6.87 per box, audible training materials, and friendly support from other blind diabetics.

The goal of the group is to increase independence, teach blind diabetes living skills, and improve health. Advanced Diabetes Supply, a 2017 Medicare Bid Winner, has commissioned Jerry Munden, recipient of the 2011 National Federation of the Blind Bolotin Award, to make it happen.

BID Group partners include the best in the blindness and medical products industry. Advanced Diabetes Supply, AFB VisionAware, Senior Center without Walls, the National Federation of the Blind, and others.

  • The BID Group website is open now
  • All products and services are available on the BID Group website
  • You are invited to join the blind diabetic support group starting April 7th
  • Contact BID Group Facilitator Jerry Munden at 980-253-0949 or jerrymunden@carolina.rr.com for more information

The Shepherd Center Seeks Responders to Survey on People with Disabilities and Mobile Communications for Health Management

The Shepherd center is interested in learning about the experiences or interest of individuals with disabilities in using three broad types of mHealth technology:

  • Mobile apps for recording health information (e.g., physical activity, diet) or managing your health.
  • Monitoring and tracking devices for recording activity and other health-related information (activity trackers, glucose monitor).
  • Websites and other internet-based sources of health information.

As a small expression of appreciation for your participation, the LiveWell RERC will donate $1.00 to each of the following 5 charities:

If interested in participating, you can complete the questionnaire at this survey link.

The Shepherd Center is a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta for people recovering from traumatic injuries or who are managing neurodegenerative diseases. The center is working on a federal grant, the LiveWell Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Community Health and Function (LiveWell RERC) whose mission is to promote accessibility of information and communication technologies (ICT) such as cell phones and tablets for people with all types of disabilities.

The focus is on how people with disabilities use or would like to use mobile communication technology to monitor and manage their health. The information collected from this survey will be used to help researchers, designers, and engineers create new mHealth solutions to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

This message is in response to Deborah Kendrick's March article, Advocating for Yourself in an Emergency Medical Situation: Advice for People with Visual Impairments.

Another one knocked out of the park. Very useful and provocative. Congrats, Deborah.

Best Regards,

David F

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

This message is in regard to Jamie Pauls' March article, CAPTCHA Be Gone from Accessible Apps Removes Another Barrier to Accessibility.

This software was a great help to me when I completed my tax returns this past January. Audio CAPTCHAs were available when I logged into the online tax preparation process, but at the end, when I was required to get past a CAPTCHA before e-filing, the audio version didn't work. I signed into CAPTCHA Be Gone, and I could solve the CAPTCHA to complete the e-filing process.

The article didn't mention that if you use a Braille display, CAPTCHA Be Gone works very well in braille. I'm deaf on one side, and using braille with speech in the background is a real bonus.


Mary Emerson

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

My son has ocular albinism and is legally blind. He does not qualify for eSight eyewear since his vision is not considered bad enough. I suspect he could benefit from eSight greatly but it's too expensive since he's been unemployed for a long time.

I worked in IT for many years and tried to hack together something based on Google cardboard VR and an LG V10 cell phone, which has a very high-resolution screen. Although I lack the expertise to demonstrate anything nearly as good as eSight, I'm convinced that there has to be an alternative to paying $15,000 which is nearly as good. The most expensive VR headsets are well under $1,000.

I'm afraid that it will take another 5 to 10 years before anything affordable is available. Are you aware of anyone developing an alternative to eSight that costs $3,000 or less? Any help is appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Donald Smith

Response from AccessWorld Associate, Aaron Preece:

Hello Donald,

At the moment, the closest product to eSight that is available for purchase, that I am aware of, is the NuEyes product. It can be purchased at a lower price than eSight glasses but it is still above the price point you requested at $5,995 and $6,195 for the NuEyes Easy and the NuEyes Pro, respectively. The device is a head-mounted display that includes a camera on the front and a pair of LCD displays for the lenses. It is possible to magnify surroundings and adjust color and contrast. The glasses also allow users to perform optical character recognition using the camera and stream television and movies directly to the lenses. The difference between the Easy and Pro is that the Pro also includes a full Android tablet interface that can be displayed on the lenses and interacted with. The Pro is expected to be released this upcoming summer and the Easy is currently available for purchase.

The IrisVision uses a VR headset paired with a smartphone to allow a user to magnify certain parts of an image without magnifying others so that they can see items that they have difficulty viewing. The site states low cost, but I have not been able to find an exact?stated price at the time of this writing.

There was a product in development called Smart Specs, which used augmented reality glasses that could magnify images but also simplify the items being viewed and outline objects. I have found several news articles on this product and found their website though at the time of this writing all the links to more information about the device produce 404 errors, so it is unclear if this project is still in development.

I hope this information is helpful.


Aaron Preece

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