This is the first of two articles on using Dolphin’s GuideConnect software. This article covers the basics of using the applications and getting started. In the second article, we’ll take a closer look at GuideConnect's email, Web browsing, document writing applications, and also how to use GuideConnect for pleasure and to stay connected and get more informed.
What are the basic things we want to do when we use a computer? Write something, communicate by email, get some information on the Internet? For newcomers to the computer, or those returning to the computer with vision loss, the learning curve can be steep, no matter what physical device is being used—computer, tablet or smartphone. Just getting up to speed with any of those basic tasks can be enough to discourage many users.
Dolphin's GuideConnect software really seems designed for people who are either new to the computer or who are returning to the computer with screen magnification or text-to-speech. GuideConnect is the latest version of Guide software, which has been around for over a decade. GuideConnect can be installed on a Windows 10 computer or tablet, or be run from a TV using the GuideConnect TV box, which connects to a television by HDMI cable. On Windows 10, GuideConnect can be installed to open like any other application from the desktop, or it can be run at start up. In the latter case, you don't need to go to the Windows desktop at all—the computer just opens to the GuideConnect interface, which has its own applications for most of the common tasks a user might want to do, such as send and receive email, write a document, and surf the web.
GuideConnect creates a straightforward, simplified mode for a Windows 10 computer that is quite intuitive. The interface enables access to the computer with a combination of text-to-speech and screen magnification that really feels like it's built right in rather than added on as an afterthought. GuideConnect includes the ability to add a USB Dolphin remote to the user interface in case you are more comfortable using a remote instead of a keyboard or mouse. A touch screen computer can also be used with GuideConnect so menu items can be selected by simply touching them on the screen. Regardless of how you choose to work with GuideConnect, menu items and navigation are organized into either large icons called "tiles," or a text-based list. By default, on installation the menu items are displayed as tiles but can be changed in the Settings menu by selecting Appearance. Whichever option you select is implemented consistently across the various applications.
In addition to the consistency and appearance of menu items, GuideConnect can be used with just a few keystrokes to get up and running. Navigating the menu and reading can be done completely just using the Arrow keys. Pressing the Escape key moves to a previous menu, and eventually back to the Main menu. Pressing Enter (or OK on the remote) selects an item. Add F2 for the Action menu within applications and you have nearly all the keystrokes necessary to make forward progress in GuideConnect.
GuideConnect first opens with text-to-speech enabled. This can be turned off and on and modified within the Settings menu, under Speech and Audio. Here, the voice and its speed can be changed, you can choose whether or not letters and words are spoken as they are typed, and adjust several other settings to customize speech. Speech rate can also be changed quickly within any application by using the keyboard shortcut F9 to slow it down and F10 to speed it up.
This same level of customization is also available for the overall appearance and screen magnification. In the Settings > Appearance menu, there are several ways to customize the overall look of GuideConnect, in addition to the way the menus are displayed, as mentioned before. The Appearance menu provides options for the font style, screen colors, and menu scrolling. There are seven "themes" listed in Screen Colors to dial in the best color combinations for viewing. The Menu Scrolling feature, on by default, scrolls the text in a highlighted menu item. This adds some movement to the display, which I at first found distracting although for a touch screen user it might be really handy to have some movement on the screen for a target. Screen brightness can also be changed within this menu and the display language selected. There are 12 languages available.
GuideConnect screen magnification provides a full screen magnifier and independent magnification for different elements of an application. For example, the main menu might be set to zoom Level 3, the main display area set to zoom Level 5, and the Action Menu set to zoom Level 4. Magnification is changed using the keyboard shortcuts F12 to increase the zoom level, or F11 to decrease the zoom level. On the remote, magnification is changed with the magnification toggle on the bottom right of the remote. At the highest zoom level, 5-6 letters of a single menu item or line of text will fill the screen; at the lowest level of screen magnification, 10 lines of text will fill the screen.
Although GuideConnect provides a simplified user interface for menus and navigation, it comes with a wide variety of applications for communication, productivity, and entertainment. The main menu contains the following items:
- Letters and documents
- Scanner and camera
- Books and News
- Address book and calendar
- Exit GuideConnect
Users of earlier versions of Guide will notice that there are fewer layers to the main menu. Some menu items have been eliminated and others better organized.
Regardless of which application is open, the structure of the display remains consistent. The title of the file or application appears in the top center. If available, the Action Menu button is to the left of the title. To the right of the title, a Microphone button is present if speech input for dictation is available on that screen. In the top right corner is the Help button labeled with “I.” Help provides context-related information. An Up Arrow button is located along the left side of the screen, and below it, a Back button. On the right side of the screen, there is a Down Arrow button with an OK button below. These basic navigational elements remain consistent across applications. You can click the buttons with the mouse pointer or just use the keyboard or remote equivalents. On the Dolphin remote, there is a circular pad in the center with directional arrows at the top, bottom, left and right, with an OK button in the center. The Back button is located just below the circular pad on the left.
The Action menu, when available, provides a context-dependent submenu for various areas of an application. In addition to the Action menu icon and F2 on the keyboard, it’s available on the remote as a button labeled "A" above and to the left of the large circular pad. The Action menu includes other menu options available to that specific location in the application. For example, in the Notes app, by default after a selected note is opened, the user is in a reading mode. To edit the note, the Action menu must be opened and Edit selected from the menu.
When an application is open, content is displayed below the title and between the navigational buttons on the left and right sides of the display. It is worth noting that the elements around the border don’t change in size as the zoom level is modified, just the content.
With the exceptions of spreadsheet and presentation applications, GuideConnect offers an alternative to all of the other applications that might be expected on a Windows desktop, plus many others that would have to be added to a standard Windows desktop for some basic assistive technology. For example, the GuideConnect menus for Books and News and for Scanners and Camera, have some great accessible applications that would otherwise have to be downloaded and added to Windows—a DAISY book reader, podcast player, and optical character recognition (OCR) software, etc.
GuideConnect is intuitive enough that you can start anywhere and make some progress just by working through the menus with the Arrow and Escape keys. A great starting point for training, however, is tucked within the Tools menu, where Training is one of the menu items. The Training menu contains the Getting Started Wizard, Keyboard Shortcuts, and Typing Tutor. The Getting Started Wizard contains 4 categories of training videos: Keyboard and mouse, Remote control, Touch screen, and Voice input. The last item on the menu is called Skip, and this is the only way to return to the Main menu from this menu. Unlike virtually every other menu, pressing the Escape key here returns the user to the Getting Started Wizard welcome page where the only option is to press Enter to return to the Getting Started menu. To exit this loop the user has to press Skip, then select “Yes, get started now” to return to the Main menu.
The training videos are well described and instructions spoken slowly. Pressing Enter pauses and resumes the videos. There are more training videos, including the ones available in the Training menu from GuideConnect Support.
What was not obvious at first is that each of the applications has detailed documentation that can be accessed from Help. To open help, click the Help icon with the mouse, use the keyboard shortcut F1, or the button labeled “B” above and to the right of the circular pad on the Dolphin remote. From the Help menu, select Help again from the menu options and the documentation for that particular application or section. Like any other document, the Up and Down Arrow keys will read through it, line by line, or F5 will begin reading continuously from the current location. On the Dolphin remote, continuous reading may be started and stopped using the button just below and to the right of the circular pad, labeled with a speaker with a slash through it. To locate a specific help topic, open the Action menu to see the links to all the topics in that documentation.
If you're looking for a tutorial, one of the best ways into GuideConnect is to open up Help right at the Main menu. Press the Action menu to open the 9 help topics, starting with “GuideConnect Getting Started and Help Page,” “Main Menu Overview,” "Help and Information, etc. Help documentation is clear and easily read using the basic reading commands.
On A Personal Note
I had the opportunity to work with several clients on previous versions of GuideConnect, then called Dolphin Guide. In two instances, the clients had little previous computer experience, had a vision loss acquired later in life, and were motivated to learn the computer. The simplified menu structure allowed each to begin using applications very quickly and helped them develop confidence as they used the computer. The typing training available in both the previous version and now in GuideConnect enabled both to improve their ability to touch type.
At one point during this review, GuideConnect stopped unexpectedly and the computer returned to the Windows desktop, something that happened at times using previous versions of Guide. It is worth mentioning because new computer users who have GuideConnect installed to open at Windows startup should be aware that this happens infrequently and that the best way to get GuideConnect back is to restart the computer. If GuideConnect stops unexpectedly and returns you to the Windows desktop, the following steps should restart your computer and get GuideConnect back:
- Press and hold the Windows key and then press D to make sure you are focused on the desktop.
- Press and hold the ALT key and then press F4 to launch the shutdown options dialog.
- Press the R key to focus the Restart option.
- Press Enter to restart the computer.
GuideConnect may be a great option if you're looking for access to common computer applications with less of a learning curve. Its combination of simplified menus, ease of navigation, built-in speech, and magnification make it a great choice for anyone new to computers or learning new skills after vision loss. A free 30-day trial can be downloaded from the Dolphin website. There are several ways to purchase GuideConnect. Retail is $895, and this includes both the Dolphin remote and a 1-year service agreement (3-years if purchased through the VA). A subscription is available for $49/month, and this includes all support and upgrades. Owners of previous versions of Guide can upgrade for $250. The GuideConnect TV box is available through retailers for $1,295. It comes with a USB keyboard and mouse and a Dolphin remote.
For a more in-depth look at using GuideConnect applications for pleasure or to stay connected, be sure to check out next month’s article on using GuideConnect for fun and education.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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