Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone may be cool, but lacks accessibility

Today is June 29, the day of the highly-touted release of the Apple iPhone.

A lot of the hype is about the
iPhone’s touch screen,
which is being promoted as the beginning wave of coming technology.

As for that wave of coming technologies, I certainly hope not. While the iPhone may look sleek, cool, and all of those other promotional buzz words, it lacks basic accessibility for those who are unable to see the touch pad.

Maybe the new
Hitachi brain interface
is the key to giving access to the blind. While I suggest this a bit feceitiously, this interface is actually a pretty cool innovation which has great potential for applications in assistive technology.

A recent request in the Houston Chronicle wanted readers to write one of the newspaper’s business reporters and tell whether you would be standing in line to get one of these new Apple play-pretty’s today.

Here is what I wrote:

I was reading Dwight’s Techblog and saw that you were inquiring whether people were going to stand in line to get an iPhone.

I will not be and will tell you why.

I am totally blind and the iPhone’s touch screen, while packing all the reputed Apple coolness, is just a blank technological slate to somebody who can’t see it.

I use a computer at home with a screen reading program and it reads text great in many forms such as web pages, emails, word documents, and many other applications. I do things on my computer by the keyboard and without using the mouse or monitor that many sighted folks have no idea how to do, even when they're looking at the monitor with mouse in hand.

The reason I explain about the computer and screen reader is that I also have a screen reader on my Nokia 6620 cell phone that reads the screen to me, including the various folders and their contents, the display screen of the number I am dialing, and also reads aloud the caller ID. This software even reads text messages. While I don't text, I do have blind friends who text using their 6620 and later model Nokia phones and this software. While my 6620 is over two years old, it is still functioning well and giving me what I need.

In essence, the iPhone would give me less functionality than the old analog cell phones I used to use before the technology advanced to where I could use a screen reader. On those old phones, I could at least feel the buttons, figure out the number I wanted to dial, and hit send. From what I’m reading, with the iPhone, I couldn’t even feel the number buttons to dial somebody, rendering it totally useless to me.

So, as I’ve explained, the IPhone has nothing that gives me the access I have on my Nokia and would be about as useful as a stone for me. One day, there may be a screen reader that works for the iPhone. Really, though, why would I want the iPhone? For coolness? I’m 45 years old and my idea of being cool is spending time with my wife and 5-year old son. Give me the practical functionality of my Nokia and I’m happy.

I know this might have been more than you were asking for, but cell phone users come in many forms. Blind folks use them too, but we need access to the information we are using. I figured I would share a side of the cell phone consumer picture most people don’t even think about.

(I did receive a prompt reply from the reporter, in which he acknowledged my thoughts and said he had never even thought about people who couldn’t see the touch pad.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Serotek unveils breakthrough in assistive technology

Wouldn’t it be nice if a blind computer user could walk up to any computer just like any sighted person and begin using it?

That is now a reality with the latest offering from
As long as that computer has internet access and sound.

That’s it. There is no need for any other screen reading software. Serotek's System Access To Go, or SATOGO, does it all for you.

To make it even a sweeter deal, this landmark breakthrough in assistive technology is absolutely free, at least for now.

When sitting down at any computer, all that the blind person needs to do is open the “Run” command by pressing the Windows key+R. At this, the person will type in and within seconds, Serotek’s System Access To Go will launch and begin speaking. This allows the blind computer user to use virtually any public computer.

There has been a lot of chatter on blind technology web sites over the last few days, saying that Serotek had a breakthrough technology to unveil. The announcement was made last night on the Main Menu program on
ACB Radio.
I usually spend most evenings off the computer and with my family, but last night I made it a point to have ACB Radio tuned in, specifically to find out what this announcement was.

I must admit, I am pretty floored with what the folks at Serotek are offering. I think this innovative application opens a lot of doors, because for now, the program is in a Beta launch and Serotek is making the use of this web technology available free of cost.

There is a registration process to gain access to the application. This gives the user access to the SATOGO program, but also includes 30 days of access to the full features of Serotek’s System Access, one of their flagship offerings. When that 30 day period concludes and you can no longer use their full System Access suite, the continued use of SATOGO will continue free for some time to come. In the future, this will most likely go to a subscription plan, but it is free in the Beta phase.

However, if you are just curious and want to check it out, go to
and type in the word “demo” in the password field. This will give you 10 minutes of access to the program. Take it for a test ride and see what you think.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You don't have to be a geek to benefit from the Blind Geek Zone

If you or one of your students is a JAWS user and you have tried to use new programs in the past, only to find yourself stifled, then here is a site that may be of assistance.

The Blind Geek Zone
Offers audio tutorials on how to use many popular applications with JAWS as well as several other tech goodies. The audio tutorials are free for individual use and discuss applications such as the new Vista operating system, Spybot, Windows Defender, Outlook Express, and the Goldwave audio editing program. There are also many more free mp3 downloads on the site, so check it out for yourself and see what there is that might be of help to you.

If you don’t consider yourself a geek, its okay. Don’t be scared off by the name of the site. It offers lots of information and tools for anybody who uses JAWS.

However, be warned...have a little time on your hands when you go there as you will be there a while going through the virtual treasure trove of information.

The Blind Geek Zone is also a good resource for staying up on assistive technology news and information. To give the site credibility, it is run by a JAWS user.

Oh yeah, another thing the site offers is a link to the
Blind Geek Zone blog.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Auditory nerve implant a breakthrough for people who are deaf

There is news on the horizon for those who are profoundly or severely deaf.

Several years ago, the cochlea implant was heralded as breakthrough and innovative. However, the promise of this procedure also had limitations.

Overcoming these limitations is exactly what is being heralded in the latest progress in auditory nerve implants. Read the full report in WebWire at:

This latest news is being reported by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute. They recently announced that they have successfully implanted an ultra-thin electrode array in the auditory nerves of animals. The implants have been successful in transmitting a wide spectrum of sounds to the animals’ brains. The next logical step is to do more animal testing, as well as with people who are deaf.

One researcher said that the new implants work better than cochlear implants, in nearly “every measure.”

According to the WebWire article linked above, if the procedure proves successful in subsequent tests, “profoundly and severely deaf people would have another option that could allow them to hear low-pitched sounds common in speech, converse in a noisy room, identify high and low voices, and appreciate music — areas where cochlea implants, though a boon, have significant limitations.”

The article also states that, “The possible auditory nerve implants likely would be suitable for the same people who are candidates today for cochlear implants: the profoundly deaf, who can’t hear at all, and the severely deaf, whose hearing ability is greatly reduced. Also, the animal studies suggest that implantation of the devices has little impact on normal hearing, offering the possibility of restoring sensitivity to high frequencies while preserving remaining low-frequency hearing.”

Friday, June 01, 2007

Nova Scotia college says "Assistive technology for all!"

The forward-thinking folks at Nova Scotia Community College are setting a new precedent in assistive technology.

Instead of having a special pathway, the use of particular assistive technology being made exclusively available to only students with disabilities, they are
making assistive technology available to all NSCC students.
After limiting use of the Premiere Assistive Key to Access software to only students with disabilities this past academic year, NSCC will be allowing access to the software to all students in the coming 2007-08 school year.

According to the article linked above, “With this new technology, students can order books in digital format, have software pick out the main points in a text and read it, and create audio study guides so they can learn on the go.”

Maybe, just maybe, people are coming to understand that there are a variety of learning styles and that this is true in the general population of students, not only those with disabilities.

I don’t know about you, but I sort of like this reverse application of universal design. Instead of making the mainstream classroom accessible, they are realizing the broader application of assistive technology, and letting it be used by the whole population. Instead of assistive technology being a special-use on-ramp for information, that ramp is now open to the public.