IBM has been a leader in accessibility for many years. Unlike other companies, no advocacy or lawsuits were necessary to convince IBM to focus on the needs of people who are blind. In 1986, IBM's Jim Thatcher developed the IBM DOS Screen Reader. He later led the development of IBM Screen Reader/2, the first screen reader for a graphical user interface on the PC. IBM's Home Page Reader was a talking browser used by computer users who are blind, as well as an ideal testing tool for web developers.
More recently, IBM's focus has shifted from computers to the accessibility of tools and services. IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Center is working on a variety of important and interesting issues and products. AccessWorld will present an interview with the center's director, Frances West, in our January 2008 issue.
In this issue, we present the first of a series of articles by Guido Corona of the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center on trends in the assistive technology field. Corona draws on his extensive knowledge and vast experience in the field to present an analysis of what's hot and what the future may hold. His first article surveys the current landscape of PDAs (personal digital assistants) with speech output.
Darren Burton and Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, write about the accessibility of exercise equipment. In an article in the 2006 special supplement to the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, James H. Rimmer reported, "One of the major barriers to access for people with vision loss is inaccessible exercise equipment." Burton and Huffman's article discusses the accessibility of treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines, and weightlifting machines, and offers solutions to make these machines more accessible.
For the past year, Deborah Kendrick has been one of a hundred people testing the next generation of Talking Books for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). NLS plans to replace audiocassettes with digital recordings stored on small flash cartridges that can be inserted into a new Talking Book machine that was designed by Batelle, HumanWare Canada, and the National Federation of the Blind. Read her report on the Talking Books of the future.
Bradley Hodges of AFB TECH reports on the first method for accessing the BlackBerry, the e-mail device manufactured by Canada-based Research In Motion. The BlackBerry is a PDA with proprietary hardware and software. It is used widely by governmental agencies and corporations because of the security it offers. Hodges's article reports on two people who have the equivalent of BlackBerry access using BlackBerry Connect, the TALKS screen reader, and a Nokia E62 PDA.
Deborah Kendrick evaluates the Olympus DS-40 digital voice recorder. Like its companions, the DS-30 and DS-50, this unit can play both MP3 and WMA files and podcasts and is compatible with Audible.com. These recorders provide oral feedback for most menu and navigation functions. Read our review of this accessible, off-the-shelf product.
Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, writes about the Zen Stone from Creative Labs, an accessible MP3 player. The 1GB Zen Stone can hold up to 250 MP3 songs and does not require you to use any software to download files. Read about this easy-to-use player.
Bradley Hodges writes about the new web interface for AOL mail. AOL says that this new interface includes specific design elements that are intended to provide accessibility and full usability for users of screen readers. Hodges signed up for an account and tried it out. Read about what he found.
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