Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, recently announced that Bookshare.org has been awarded a $32 million grant from the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education, to be delivered over the next five years, for the purpose of making educational texts accessible to students who are unable to read print. Bookshare.org is the membership service through which individuals who are blind or have low vision share the files containing books they have scanned with optical character recognition software, to be downloaded by other members. The site currently offers more than 34,000 titles (in addition to some 200 newspapers provided by the National Federation of the Blind's Newsline). Fruchterman expects the number to grow by 100,000 titles and hopes to deliver millions of books to students of all ages over the next five years. As of October 1, 2007, there is no membership fee for elementary, high school, and college students or for the schools that serve them. The specific plan for how all students will be reached and books will be delivered remains to be announced, but real and timely access to textbooks finally seems to be on the horizon for U.S. students.
Victor Reader Stream
The new handheld MP3 and book player from HumanWare Canada began shipping in early September 2007, and U.S. customers are particularly enthusiastic about its ability to play digital Talking Books that are downloaded from the new web site of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The Victor Reader Stream plays music, text files, Talking Books from NLS, and DAISY books from Bookshare.org, and will add the capability to play DAISY books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and books from Audible.com later this year. The Victor Reader Stream sells for $329 and is available from HumanWare. For more information, visit the web site <www.humanware.com>. To be added to a list that distributes announcements regarding the Victor Reader Stream, go to the web site <www.humanware.com/products/digital_talking_books/ portable_cd_and_flash_player/ _details/id_81/victorreader_stream.html>.
Read This to Me
Despite remarkable advances in technology in recent years, some types of printed materials are still difficult or impossible for people who are blind to access without sighted assistance. A new volunteer service, called Read This to Me, may fill this gap. By faxing the printed material—a handwritten letter, instructions from a food container, a complex chart, or another document—to a toll-free number, a person who is blind can receive a telephone call from a sighted volunteer who will read the material aloud. Calls are free from anywhere in the United States. Faxes should contain a cover page with the individual's name and telephone number. To learn more, visit the web site <www.readthistome.org>. To try the service, fax printed information to 877-333-8848.
GW Micro announced the new version of its Small-Talk Ultra, the accessible version of one of the world's smallest computers. The product, says GW Micro, is not a mere notetaker or PDA (personal digital assistant), but a full-blown personal computer that can be held in the palm of the hand. The new version offers 1 GB RAM and an 80 GB hard drive. Customers can order the product with either Windows XP Pro or Windows Vista Business and choose from the following configurations: Small-Talk Ultra with Window-Eyes, Small-Talk Ultra with one Window-Eyes SMA (for customers who already own a copy of Window-Eyes), Small-Talk Ultra with ZoomText, or Small-Talk Ultra with ZoomText plus speech. The product ships with a 58-key thumb keyboard plus an 88-key USB keyboard and has a built-in microphone, speaker, USB port, and wireless and Bluetooth capabilities. An AC adapter and custom carrying case are also included in the original package price, which ranges from $2,395 to $2,595. For more information, visit the web site <www.gwmicro.com/Small-Talk_Ultra>.
New Licensing Program from Code Factory
Code Factory has announced the availability of a new licensing system, called "user-centered licensing," that will enable users of Code Factory's products to transfer the license from one device to another, use the license on multiple devices, or return the license to a device that has been temporarily out of service or deactivated. There will be no additional charge for customers who want to license multiple devices, and those with existing licenses can upgrade to the new system free of charge.
An announcement on Code Factory's web site states that "All Code Factory products for the Windows Mobile operating system, that is, products for Pocket PCs, Windows Mobile Smartphones, Windows Mobile Classic devices, Windows Mobile Standard devices, and Windows Mobile Professional devices, will use the new licensing system as of version 2.0 of each Code Factory product. Other Code Factory Products will, for the moment, be using their current licensing method." For more information, visit: <www.codefactory.es/ucl>.
New Use for GPS in Norway
An article in the October 9, 2007, issue of Norway Post reported the innovative use of GPS (global positioning system) capabilities and mobile phones to allow passengers who are blind to track bus locations. The idea is that a passenger who is blind will be alerted when the bus is approaching; where the bus is currently located, regardless of schedule information; and, once the passenger has boarded, when the desired destination is reached. The following excerpts are from the article:
The Norwegian Highway Department and the SINTEF Research Group are hoping to introduce a new real-time traffic information system for the blind and sight impaired. Tests have already been carried out in cooperation with the Association for the Blind.
The AKTA system is based on information via the mobile phone and the GPS system.… So far the tests have been carried out on the long distance route between Kristiansund and Aalesund, but the aim is to introduce the system nationwide.