Since its earliest venture into the assistive technology arena with FreedomBox, (which grew up to be the more sophisticated System Access screen reader and System Access Mobile Network), Serotek Corp. has kept simplicity and easy access at the heart of its product designs. With the introduction of DocuScan Plus, an application using optical character recognition (OCR) software to recognize and read hardcopy text, those two principles are evident as usual.
Initial Test Drive
The future of any product is especially bright if the initial peek is a positive one, and that was the case for me with DocuScan Plus. With a scanner attached to a computer, you log onto the DocuScan Plus website, and after a very brief log-in procedure, you are ready to scan a document.
If this is your first time using the program, the self-voicing application guides you through a simple form to complete, and you're off and running.
After that first log-in, I selected number 1, "Simple scan," from the menu of choices, and then pressed Continue to confirm that I did indeed want to scan a document, and was actually somewhat startled that the process was that quick and easy! The scanner whirred, the self-voicing DocuScan Plus told me that the process "may take a minute," and sure enough, in about just that span of time, the program began a flawless narration of the book review it had just recognized from O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine!
Next, I placed three or four different pieces of the day's mail delivery — an ad, a newsletter, a product announcement — on the scanner and was immensely pleased with the accuracy of recognition. The entire process — signing up and testing three or four different types of pages took only about 20 minutes.
This initial test drive was conducted using Windows XP on an Asus netbook with a Canon LiDe 110 scanner attached. Later, as I read through the product's Help files, I discovered that this happened to be the very scanner recommended and sold by Serotek. Product documentation indicates, however, that the program will run on any Windows Vista, Windows XP, or Windows 7 along with most twain-compliant or other scanners. The documentation is always available as Option 6, "Help." It is broken down into neat little packages of information and can be accessed at any point while using the program or downloaded as a zipped file in a variety of formats.
Beyond the Page
Once DocuScan Plus has finished reading a scanned page aloud, you are given several options. You can edit the scanned text, re-scan the page, scan the next page, or save the document. The program announces whether a page is right side up or upside down before reading it. This announcement immediately brought two quirks to my attention. One was that the top of this particular scanner (i.e., the edge nearest the hinge holding the lid in place) is interpreted to be the bottom rather than the top of the page. Whether this varies from scanner to scanner, I'm not certain. The other quirk, clearly of DocuScan Plus itself, is that although it identifies a newly inserted page as upside down or right side up, it fails to announce whether or not the page is blank.
If, in fact, there was text on the page, you are presented with an Edit button for any changes you might want to make. The editing possible here is extremely basic. You can delete or insert text to make corrections. After editing the page, you can scan the next page, re-scan the page, or save it.
Documents saved are saved online unless you specify otherwise under Manage Documents.
In addition to the simple scan, DocuScan Plus presents the options of Batch Scan and Auto-Read. The former is intended to give you the option of scanning several pages and saving them as one file, without the interruption of reading each page as you go. Auto-Read is similar in that it affords the option of scanning continuously without reviewing each page. I found little difference between these two options, with the exception that Auto-Read provides a double beep to let you know when the coast is clear to scan a new page. Both save little time in the scanning process itself, although Auto-Read might be a bit faster than the Simple Scan option.
If you want to add to a document after having scanned and saved it, DocuScan Plus allows you to do that as well.
Frills and Other Formats
After a document has been successfully scanned and recognized, there are a variety of ways in which you can manipulate it. You can e-mail the document to yourself or someone else if you are a SAMNet subscriber. You can send it to an Amazon Kindle if you have previously established an Amazon account for doing so. You can save it as a DAISY-formatted file, an MP3-formatted file, or a file formatted for braille. You can opt to save it to the computer's hard drive in regular or large print, and you can protect a given file with a password.
Again, being a SAMNet subscriber enhances the DocuScan Plus performance. If saved as a DAISY file, for instance, the document will be placed in your SAMNet sync list for later transfer to a portable player. If saved as an MP3 file, the file will be saved to your SAMNet Media Library for later play through the System Access media player. (It should be noted that, although using the program for SAMNet subscribers can certainly provide a more seamless experience, DocuScan Plus is a fully functional application when purchased as a stand-alone product.)
When DocuScan Plus is hard at work scanning or recognizing a page, progress is always indicated by the classic System Access tweedling sound. (This can be changed to a clicking sound or no sound if preferred.) Spoken messages also alert you to the progress of a scan or save procedure.
The beauty of DocuScan Plus, as with other System Access products, lies primarily in its ease of use and portability. Its simplicity means you can be up and running quickly, literally scanning and recognizing needed documents that first time you examine the program. Because it is a self-voicing program, you can try it out from any computer, whether a screen reader is on board or not. If you own the product, you can use it on any computer as long as there is a compatible scanner connected to that computer. You can go into any business office anywhere with a computer and scan documents you have been given there to read — a library, hotel, client's office, or anywhere else you can think of. The program remembers your preferences and you can read documents on the spot, e-mail them to yourself, save them online, or transfer them to your portable player to read on the go.
The accuracy of the recognition software is truly excellent. In the event that you need to be certain of 100 percent accuracy — as might be the case with a financial document or contract, for example — the editing feature in this program requires no training whatever, so that you or a sighted assistant could quickly proofread and amend as necessary.
DocuScan Plus sells for $299. If you need a quick and accurate approach to translating printed material into a form you can access for yourself, this product will make a great addition to your assistive technology toolbox.
Author's Note: Shortly after completion of this article, Serotek introduced a new package at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Combined with the HoverCam, a pocket-sized camera, DocuScan Plus will be sold as a completely portable reading solution. The package will sell for $800, and may be reviewed in a future issue of AccessWorld.