If you find using the computer overwhelming, or if you are a first-time computer user and you want to start with an easy interface, then CDesk from AdaptiveVoice may be a good choice for you. CDesk replaces your standard desktop with an uncomplicated and logical interface that gives you access to important applications such as e-mail, word processing, Internet browsing, and document scanning.

CDesk will run on Windows Vista, XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8, but the speech-recognition component will not run on any operating system prior to Windows 7. At least two gigabytes of memory are recommended for optimum performance.

CDesk was created by computer programmer Michael Wechter after his wife, Randyce, suddenly lost her sight. His goal was to develop a program that was easy-to-use while giving the user access to important applications. Randyce and Michael made a lot of friends who were visually impaired and these friends showed great interest in the program. Eventually Randyce regained some sight in her right eye, with enough vision to drive. This good fortune did not change their commitment to people who have visual impairments. They decided that once a user purchased CDesk, all future updates and upgrades would be free. In addition, there would never be a charge for technical support.

According to Wechter, there are approximately 1,800 active users of CDesk, ranging in age from 16 to 97. Many clients come to CDesk without any computer skills. Approximately 40 percent of CDesk clients have no usable vision and 40 percent have low vision. Not all clients have visual impairments. Wechter indicated that the most popular application used through the interface is e-mail. Other popular applications include Internet Radio, News Reader and downloading books from Bard and Bookshare. A complete list of applications available via CDesk can be found on the AdaptiveVoice website.

Getting Started

AdaptiveVoice offers several CDesk packages at different prices. A free 15-day trial of CDesk can be downloaded from the AdaptiveVoice website. The version that was used in this trial was CDesk Compass ($395).

The company's contact and support information are at the top of the homepage. All links are clearly labeled. A complete product list will be given at the end of this article. I also got to work with PEGGY, the CDesk speech recognition application.

Getting CDesk onto Your Computer

Activating the Download link for the free trial will start the download onto your computer. Be aware that several anti-virus programs will block CDesk from downloading. The website provides information on how to handle this. If you need help, you can always contact CDesk technical support.

Once the download is complete, run the file and CDesk will open and start updating files. If you are using a screen reader, you can turn it off because CDesk self-voices using Microsoft voices.

CDesk automatically puts two shortcuts on the Windows desktop: CDesk Start is Control + Shift + C, and Support is Control + Shift + S. The first time the application is launched there is a brief registration form which uses Tab and Shift + Tab keys to move from element to element. By default, CDesk will not speak while information is typed into edit boxes, but this setting can be toggled with the F6 key. After entering information into an edit box, pressing the spacebar will make the program speak what has been entered.

The CDesk mouse pointer is larger than a standard mouse pointer. Text size can be increased by pressing F12 and decreased with F11. These commands work with all the program's applications. The speech rate of the screen reader is changed with Control + Page Down to make speech slower and Control + Page Up to increase speed.

Launching CDesk

When CDesk is started, whether by finding it on the Windows desktop or using the shortcut Control + Shift + C, the program will announce that it's updating files. Next it will say a greeting, including your name. After that, you'll be prompted to choose one of four options: CDesk Program Start, CDesk Remote Support, System Shutdown and Shutdown CDesk Return to the Windows Desktop. The option to start the program is the first option and hitting the Enter key when the program loads will automatically start CDesk.

The next screen contains a list of the various applications within CDesk. Tabbing will go forward through the applications and Shift + Tab will reverse direction. There is also a Help option and an option to Exit from CDesk.

Getting Help

One of the most important factors when purchasing any program is technical support. CDesk support is outstanding. CDesk offers several kinds of support: phone, remote assistance, tutorials, and a new support forum.

Phone Support

Phone support is at 949-436-7760. Select the option for technical support from the main menu. Tech support is provided both by the CDesk office in California and by staff at the Chicago Lighthouse. Support is available from 7 am to 5 pm, Pacific.

Remote Support

Remote support, where the tech accesses your computer with your permission, is available by typing Control + Shift + S or pressing the Escape key eight times in a row. Remote support can be accessed while you are on the phone with support personnel. It's an excellent feature, especially for someone with little computer experience or with a difficult problem.


The brief video tutorials are clearly described. Most cover a specific task within CDesk. For example, there are three tutorials for the e-mail app: Basic E-mail Reading and Navigation, How to Send E-mail, and How to Send E-mails to a Group. A complete list of tutorials can be accessed from the home screen by typing Alt + H. When in a specific application, using the same command will bring up a list of tutorials related specifically to the application. Press the Enter key to launch a tutorial. These tutorials can also be accessed on the CDesk home screen by selecting the Tutorials link. The CDesk Navigation Skills tutorial contains a great deal of information and explains the simplicity of using CDesk.

Reporting a Problem

Pressing the F10 key from anywhere in CDesk will open up a form where the user can type in a message to technical support staff.

Using the Applications

Most commands for CDesk use the Alt key and a letter that relates to the active application. E-mail is launched with Alt + E. The CDesk word processor, called Word, is launched with Alt + W. Typing Alt + X will exit a program or move you to the previous page, depending on the situation. Function keys perform the same kind of operation in all programs. For example, F1 reads what is on the screen. What it reads depends on the specific application and location in the application. F5 says the current word and F6 speaks the current sentence. F12 enlarges the text and F11 reduces text size. Many Windows commands, including Control + S to save and Control + V for paste, work with CDesk. Access the application-specific shortcut keys by activating the Help menu and using the Tab key to get to Help Text. Use the arrow keys to explore the menu. The first item on the menu is the CDesk tech support number.


For a fee, CDesk can support approximately 30 additional languages. For example, if you activate Spanish, an e-mail written in English can quickly be translated and read in Spanish and all controls and keyboard commands will also be spoken in Spanish. There is an additional fee for each language added.


The e-mail program can be launched by tabbing to it on the home screen or using the shortcut Alt + E.

CDesk has an easy-to-use interface for e-mail. In order to set up the program, you will need to know your e-mail address, your password, and your server. Tech support can help with this procedure. E-mail clients such as Gmail will sync across devices. For example, my Gmail account is synced between CDesk on my desktop PC, my MacBook Air, and my iPhone.

When CDesk is running, it will announce when a new e-mail message is received. The program opens to the inbox and reads the name of the sender, subject, date, and time. Press the Enter key to open the e-mail. If the sender isn't on your contact list, you will be given the option to add them. The first button is Yes and the one below it is No. Press Enter on whichever button you choose. The list of e-mails in the inbox can be read with the up and down arrows.

If the recipient is already in the contacts list, the e-mail will begin reading. Typing F1 will also start the reading. Once the e-mail has been read, using Tab or Shift + Tab will cycle through choices for actions: Delete, Reply, Print, Forward, and Exit. Choosing the Exit option will return the e-mail back to the inbox. There are many shortcut keys in E-mail. For example, Reply is Alt+ R and Delete is Alt + D.

The latest version of CDesk allows you to filter elements within an e-mail. For example, if an e-mail is in HTML format and contains links and images, the links and images can be filtered out, making it much easier to read the text. This feature uses the same system described in the section on the CDesk Internet Browser, below.

In the E-mail program, there are several folders including Inbox, Deleted Messages, and Sent Messages. To switch between folders, Tab once to the Change Folders option. Pressing the Enter key will bring up the list of folders. Within the folder list, the Enter key will open a new folder. A message can be moved to a different folder by first locating the message and then typing Alt + M, which will display a list of folders. Make your selection and press the Enter key.

To send a message, either use the Tab key and choose Send or type Alt + S. Type the name of the contact in the To field. If the recipient is in the contacts list, tab once to open the list and choose the recipient. Next tab to the subject field and type in a subject. Finally, tab once more and type the message. When you're finished, press Tab or Shift + Tab to send, or type Alt + S. If the contact isn't in the contacts list, type in the name of the recipient in the To field.


The Contacts application can be opened by tabbing to it on the home screen or by typing Alt + C. Add a new contact by first tabbing to the New button or type Alt + N. CDesk will read out the fields for you to fill in. Get to each field with the Tab key. Press the spacebar at the end of each field entry to hear the text in that field. Once done filling in the information, tab to the "Save" button or type Alt + S.

Edit a contact by locating the contact and pressing the Enter key on the field to be edited. Next type in the new information and tab to the "Save" button or type Alt + S. The first field of the Contact form is First Name, but to find a contact you need to start with the first letter of the last name. If I were looking for a contact named John Doe, I would type the letter D and not the letter J.


Word can be launched by tabbing to it on the home screen or by typing Alt + W. The application opens to a blank document. When typing, CDesk will speak each word. Press F3 to hear each character. Toggle character reading off by pressing F3 again.

Press F1 to hear whatever is on the screen. Type Shift + F1 to read from the cursor to the end of the document. A word with one incorrect letter can be changed by using the arrow keys to get to the incorrect letter and pressing Delete. To delete a whole word, use Control + Shift + Arrow to highlight the word and then press the Delete key.

A document can be saved by either typing Control + S or tabbing to the "Save" button. A dialogue box will open with an edit box for the document name. Once the name is typed, pressing the Enter key will save the document in the default RTF format. Word also can save the file in MP3 or DOC formats. DOC format is compatible with most versions of Microsoft Word so it's a good format for sharing with others. After entering the document name, tab to the combo box and use the arrow keys to select a format.

Documents are opened by either typing Alt + O or, in Word, tabbing to the Open option and pressing the Enter key. Use the arrow keys to locate the document or if you know the document's name, start typing the first few letters. To print a document, type Alt + P or tab to the Print option and press the Enter key. A dialogue box will open and will ask whether you want to print in large or regular type.

This word processing application has menus for editing, fonts, paragraphs, adding bullets, and checking spelling. To get to the menus, tab once from the document body. CDesk will identify the Edit menu with common word processing options like Cut, Copy, and Paste. Read the font menu by using the right arrow from the Edit menu. Right arrow again to the Paragraph menu. The next menu is Bullets and the final option is Spelling. Once you get to the menu you want, use the up and down arrow keys to explore the options. There are shortcuts for going to menus such as Alt + F for Fonts, and Alt + B for Bullets.


CDesk has its own Internet browser and settings that reduce the clutter on webpages. Like other screen readers, CDesk can navigate webpages by links, headings, forms, and other elements.

When the browser is launched, the first webpage that loads is the CDesk homepage. Pressing Tab will cycle through several options including Favorites, Move Backward, Move Forward, and Read Page Elements.

When a website is loaded, CDesk looks at the page and breaks it down into five elements: Forms, Images, Links, Text, and Headings (FILTH).

The Internet address bar is accessed by typing Control + O. Type the URL for a website and press the Enter key. A website can be read with the arrow keys. Another method to start reading is to press the F1 key twice. Letter navigation can be done by typing the first letter of an element such as L for Links and H for Headers. Another navigation option is to tab to the Links button and press Enter. This will bring up a list of links in alphabetical order. Type the first letter of the link. If there is more than one link with the letter, arrow down to find the correct one.

Clutter on a webpage can make it difficult to navigate for users who are blind or have low vision. CDesk has addressed this by providing two different types of filters to de-clutter webpages: the Toggle filter and the Exclusive filter.

The Toggle filter allows individual elements to be removed from a webpage. For example, typing Control + I will remove all images. Typing Control + L will remove all links. More than one element can be removed at a time. Each element can be brought back by typing the same key combination used to remove it or by typing Control + A to reload all the elements that were removed.

With the Exclusive filter, it's possible to remove all elements except for one. For example, typing Shift + T will remove everything except the text on the page. Other elements can be added individually by typing their shortcut key such as Control + L to add just the links. Typing Control + A will bring all the elements back on the page.

The CDesk Favorites list is like the Bookmarks folder in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Use the up and down arrows to navigate and press the Enter key on the link you want to view.

To add a website to the Favorites list, go to the website you want to add and type Alt + V. A dialog will open where you can tab to the Add Favorite option or type Alt + A. Finally, type Alt + S to save.

Media and Books

The Media and Books application can be accessed from the home screen by typing Alt + M or by tabbing to it. The next screen has options for Internet Radio, News Reader, Books & Periodicals, and more.

Opening the News Reader option brings up a long list of news sources. Press the Enter key on the news source and a list of categories within the news source will appear. Choose a category by pressing the Enter key and a list of articles will appear. Press Enter on the article you want.

The Internet Radio option comes with some stations already programmed, but it's easy to add your own station. Start by tabbing to the Add button and activate it with the Enter key. Select from the category list (Music, Talk, Sports, etc.) to see all of the options.

Downloading Material from Bookshare and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)

It's easy to download books from the Bookshare or the NLS in just a few steps. A tutorial is on the AdaptiveVoice website or you can read Deborah Kendrick's February 2011 AccessWorld article, An Evaluation of C-Desk for Media.

PEGGY Speech Recognition System

PEGGY is CDesk's speech recognition system. It works extremely well. PEGGY can open programs, type text, make spelling corrections in documents and more. PEGGY works with Windows 7 and Windows 8 and is not available with the 15-day free trial. In order to communicate with PEGGY, you need a headset with a microphone. The headphones that come with iOS devices will not work.

Coming Soon

Michael Wechter said that AdaptiveVoice may be releasing two new products very soon, PEGGY for Windows and a CDesk tablet.


CDesk is a good choice for someone who wants to use the computer for basic functions due to its ease of use, consistent interface across all applications, and excellent technical support. It's certainly worth downloading and using the 15-day free trial. Feel free to contact technical support if you need help. The training videos on the website and in the help section of each application are well-organized and task specific. There's no need to listen to a long tutorial to learn one simple task.

Product Information

Product: CDesk
Price: See below
Available from: AdaptiveVoice LLC, 949-436-7760

CDesk Packages

The following information was provided by AdaptiveVoice.

  • CDesk Compass is downloadable software for Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8 ($395)
  • CDesk Compass Mobile for Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, includes two CDesk Compass licenses: One for your computer (laptop or desktop) and one for a USB memory device that can be plugged into any Windows computer. ($595)
  • CDesk Compass with PEGGY Speech Recognition allows you to use an existing Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer system to use the CDesk software with speech recognition. The setup and initial training on your computer is done by AdaptiveVoice software support. ($1,395)
  • CDesk Navigator Plus is a complete hardware/software package. It comes with a Dell desktop computer, LED monitor, keyboard/mouse, printer/scanner. All of the software is pre-installed, setup for blind or low-vision users and ready to plug in and start working with CDesk. ($2,295)
  • CDesk Discovery is the same package as the Navigator Plus with the addition of the CDesk Vista portable camera. The Vista camera folds to 6 inches by 2 inches by 1 inch and easily fits in a pocket. The camera allows for document viewing (with user controlled magnification), optical character recognition, and Web Cam for video calling. The Vista Camera is an inexpensive replacement for bulky CCTVs. ($3,095)
  • PEGGY speech recognition addition to Navigator Plus or Discovery systems. ($200)
  • Secondary language addition. ($95)
  • Updates are always free (including new applications). No software maintenance agreements (SMAs) are required.
  • AdaptiveVoice Alliance Project: In conjunction with the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, AdaptiveVoice is offering the CDesk Compass software to all non-profit vision resource centers under zero-cost licenses for use in their facilities. This project will be fully supported by AdaptiveVoice and the Chicago Lighthouse. Participants will need to register (no cost) with AdaptiveVoice.

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Janet Ingber
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Product Evaluations and Guides