Thursday, January 31, 2008

New program turns World of accessible computing for the blind on its ear

Last year, I wrote about
breakthrough technology called System Access To Go ,. This new advance in screen reader service gave blind people the worl of accessible computing that was not tied to any specific computer, but would work on any internet connected computer that had sound. It was heralded throughout the blind community as a true difference maker for blind people everywhere. With the press release I received today, and posted below, is proof of just how revolutionary Serotek's vision is. This is truly a tool of empowerment.

Now, all a blind computer user needs to do is go to any internet connected computer, go to the AIR website, and press alt+a. Voila! Accessible computing is here for the masses. What a gift this is. Now all we have to do is get the word out and support this organization.

Read on...

Media Contact:

Janelle Schulenberg

Tacet Consulting


Nonprofit Launched to Bring Free Accessibility Worldwide

The AIR Foundation committed to ‘accessibility is a right’

Orlando, Florida – January 31, 2008 – The AIR Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn. was announced today at a press conference held during the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2008 National Conference at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando, Florida. The mission of the foundation is to promote universal accessibility so that every blind and low-vision person in the world has access to digital information over the Internet and Worldwide Web.

The foundation’s executive director, Art Schreiber, also announced that the organization’s first offering will be free usage of a Web 2.0 accessible screen reader. The product is provided through an exclusive license in perpetuity granted to The AIR Foundation from Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of Internet and digital information accessibility software and services. The screen reader is called SA To Go and is powered by Serotek’s award-winning System Access software which provides immediate text to speech, magnified visual, and Braille access to digital information presented through the Web or other means, while the user is directly connected to the Internet. The software does not remain resident on the user’s computer when the connection to the Internet is interrupted or terminated. Users can obtain access to the free software by calling 877-369-0101 or visiting

“The basic tenet of The AIR Foundation is that accessibility is a fundamental human right, regardless of financial or geographic constraints” said Art Schreiber, executive director of The AIR Foundation, “by allowing the blind and visually impaired to have equal access to computer and Internet information through the free use of an advanced screen reader like SA To Go, we have already taken great strides toward our mission.”

The AIR Foundation will solicit funds and contract development of product enhancements including availability in other languages. The organization’s first priority is to make SA To Go available in Mandarin Chinese.

“SA To Go is highly intuitive and requires minimal training to use,” said Serotek CEO, Mike Calvo, “the user not only has access to information displayed on Web pages, but to Web-based applications such as Internet telephone service, and to applications resident on the host computer. The user can also access PDF files, fill out forms, and otherwise interact with information with the same facility as a sighted person.”

The AIR Foundation will operate through the generosity of organizations donating their time, expertise, and funds. It invites other nonprofits, assistive technology vendors, mainstream hardware and software companies and anyone interested in promoting accessibility as every person’s right, to align with the AIR team.

The AIR Foundation

The AIR Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate, teach, and deliver information accessibility tools. We focus on the accessibility needs of blind and low-vision people. Our mantra is “accessibility is a right” and we work with corporations and agencies worldwide to deliver free accessibility to all. For more information, call 877-369-0101 or visit

Serotek Corporation

Serotek Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions. Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek launched the first online community specifically designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Since then, Serotek has introduced several powerful, affordable solutions that require minimal training and investment. For more information, visit

Not everybody is working for passage of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007

Just because you feel passionately about the Americans with Disabilities Act and are optimistic about the passage of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 doesn’t mean that somebody isn’t out there working against what you are hoping will be passed into law.

If you’ve not been keeping up, there are organized efforts working just as hard to stop the passage of H.R. 3195. Some of this work is very direct, while other work is a bit more subtle.

The Washington D.C. conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation just published a position paper outlining why they feel that the
ADA Restoration Act undermines the employer-employee relationship.

Also, the Society for Human Resource Managers
(SHRM) has called the ADA Restoration Act a bad idea
and has sent out an action alert to its members. This alert is calling for SHRM members to contact their representatives and urge them to vote against the resolution.

If you watched the Republican debate on CNN last night, then you might have noticed that SHRM was one of the sponsors. Remember what I said about the Republican View in my post yesterday? It seems that SHRM noticed it too and is working to promote the cause through the sponsorship of the debate.

George Lenard, A St. Louis labor and employment lawyer
challenges SHRM’s alarmist alert
on his blog and also offers a seasoned labor attorney’s perspective on the pending bill.

There are more web sites than these out there taking a stand against the ADA Restoration Act, but I wanted to share these to point ut that the passage of this legislation is not a slam dunk by any means. While it may make perfect sense to you and I, the conservative, pro-business side is fighting it tooth and nail. Rest assured that there are organized steps being pursued to follow up on their wishes. That means you need to do more than just sit back and pray that this bill will pass. Take action. If you want to see this pass, then you need to contact your representative and let him/her know how you feel.

You've come a long way, baby

In the late 1960s and early 70s, back when cigarette companies were allowed to advertise on television and radio, I can still remember the catchy jingle of the Virginia Slims commercials that ran on television. Their slogan was “You’ve come a long way, baby.” I can still whistle that tune today.

That same catch phrase can be applied to the field of assistive technology. With advances in technology and computers in general, the world of assistive technology has come leaps and bounds.

When I first began using JAWS to access the computer ten years ago, it came on four floppy discs. That means that the whole program took up less than 5.7 megabytes of space. Heck, I’ve got several mp3s on my computer that are larger than that today. And, JAWS has definitely evolved in more than just the amount of space it takes up on the hard drive. (For the record, JAWS 9 is now a 65 MB download.)It has evolved to be able to handle the changing operating systems and programs that are frequently used by blind computer users.

In this same vein, there is a recent article in the New York Times describing
how speech recognition technology has evolved.

Instead of being relegated to the world of disability services, speech recognition has found much more mainstream appeal. The article highlights how this technology has gone From the early versions of Dragon Dictate (now Dragon Naturally Speaking) to the implementation of it on telephone services and, most recently, on cell phones.

The article also discusses the aspect of how this field changes when big corporate players take a role, such as Nuance and Microsoft. Nuance has been gathering various voice recognition resources for some time now and has grown to be a major player in this field. Microsoft also bought TellMe Networks a while back, adding this to their stable of growing assistive technology resources. (I first heard about TellMe a few years ago in blind circles as an accessible means of information gathering via telephone.) Microsoft is also now regularly front and center in those nationally broadcast Ford commercials promoting the auto companies use of Sync to use voice activated commands to execute commands while driving.

Yes, it is true. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Walgreens has program to hire people with disabilities

Walgreens has a program called Walgreens Outreach, which is designed to
hire people with disabilities.

The national drugstore chain has a distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina that is the center of this operation. It is here that the employees with disabilities receive pre-hire training. Completion of pre-hire training doesn’t guarantee paid employment, though.

The jobs within this program vary, but are in the areas of general warehouse, Maintenance, human resources, management, and the computer room. The employment is generally full time, but part time employment can be arranged as an accommodation for an individual’s disability.

The Outreach web site states that this is not an operation which is closed to only people with disabilities. There will be people with and without disabilities on the same teams doing the same jobs. However, most importantly, it does point out that they will be paid the same.

I found the
Program’s background
To be very interesting. It illustrates the importance of thinking about and implementing the concepts of universal design when creating new equipment. It highlights the strengths of ensuring accessibility to all when beginning a new program and how important it is to think about this before launching one.

The home page for Walgreens Outreach has a specific link for jobseekers and another just for agencies seeking to place employees.

For more information, check out their
FAQ page.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

TBI rate among Iraq war soldiers may be lower than previously thought

It appears that a new study is reporting that the frequency at which
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs may be lower than previously thought
among soldiers
who have served in the Iraq war.

According to the article:
“Traumatic brain injury, described as the signature wound of the Iraq war, may be less to blame for soldiers' symptoms than doctors once thought, contends a provocative military study that suggests post-traumatic stress and depression often play a role.”

“That would be good news because there are successful treatments for those conditions, said several nonmilitary doctors who praised the research.”

Click on the above link to read the whole story.

House committee reviews case of ADA Restoration Act of 2007

If you didn’t already know, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor had a hearing on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 3195) yesterday. For details of the hearing, go to the
committee’s official press release site.

The committee hearing is part of the review process of the legislation, which is seeking to reaffirm the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Included in the report are testimony excerpts from Carey McClure, Andrew Imparato, and Robert Burgdorf.

McClure spoke about how General Motors revoked their initial job offer to him, due to his muscular dystrophy. The courts supported GM’s position, citing that McClure had adapted his activities of daily living sufficient enough so that he was no longer considered disabled, and thus, not covered by the ADA.

Imparato is the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities and spoke on the progressive trend of courts stripping away the beacon of hope that the original ADA was to people with disabilities.

Burgdorf is a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia and addressed the factual statistics that support Imparato’s allegations.

For party contrast, you may also want to review the
Republican view,
As the tone of that press release leans in a different direction than that which is in the first report.

It is good to finally see this legislation working its way through the system. We can only hope that the good and common sense of Congress triumphs over the prevailing system of Washington lobbyists dollars being used to push their agendas.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Updated: New KNFB Reader promises another advance in portable OCR abilities

**See end of this post for an available audio interview.

In October, 2006, I finally got the chance to get my hands on a KNFB Reader and take it for a test drive. The KNFB Reader is the breakthrough in portable OCR scanning that unhooked that assistive technology task from a computer. It joined a PDA running Kurzweil OCR software with a digital camera to input the graphical image as the document being scanned. This concept was landmark in that it allowed blind and visually impaired people the ability to be anywhere and scan work documents, restaurant menus, and any other document with text in standard fonts.

At that time, while I marveled at the concept of having the ability to virtually scan any document at any location, I was also struck with both the unit’s somewhat slow speed and bulkiness. I felt that the processing speed should have been quicker and also, because it was a camera paired with a personal data assistant, it was a little bulky to make it what I felt was truly portable.

It seems like I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, at least about the size concern. The latest evolution of this product is here. The new
KNFB Reader
Is about to be released and it runs on a Nokia N82 mobile phone with a built-in digital camera.

Now, that really makes some sense. Today’s smart phones are virtually running a small computer already to execute all the semi-computing tasks anyhow, which the market demands, and this is what the latest incarnation of the tool is using to run the Kurzweil software. And, of course, the camera was already built-in, so there is no need to use two digital devices to do one job.

According to the press release linked above, which is basically just announcing today’s press conference of the KNFB Reader’s advanced enhancements, the camera is implied to also be faster than its predecessor. At least that’s what I take from the words of the President of the National Federation of the Blind (the NFB in KNFB).

And, According to the below paragraph (also from the press release,) which outlines the accessibility features of the software, I’m also going to take it that the program works as a screen reader for the phone.

“Blind users will have access to all of the functions featured in the most advanced cell phones on the market including video and music playback, GPS, wireless communications, photography, e-mail, text messaging, calendar and task functions, and more. The combination Reader and cell phone weighs 4.2 ounces and can store thousands of printed pages with easily obtainable extra memory. Users can transfer files to computers or Braille notetakers in seconds.”

This all sounds wonderful, but I want to know what this will cost and when it will be available. I’ve check both the press release and the official
KNFB Reader web site,
For more information. However, I have not found any specifics about when this dreamy piece of assistive technology will be available, nor what the price will be.

Hopefully, the unit’s price will not be stratospheric ($3,500) like its predecessor. This is especially applicable when the
Mobile Speaks screen reader
For smart phones, including two Nokia models, Is available commercially through AT&T for only $89. Yes, the AT&T offering doesn't include the OCR capabilities, but it gives everything else. Given that blind consumers have something to compare it to, that makes the price tag for the OCR software stand out and may make some wonder how much that is truly worth. If the access to the phone's features can be had for only $89, that makes it imperative for the KNFB Reader to be priced somewhat competetively.

I feel certain more will be revealed in coming days. Check back here soon for updates.

Update 01-28-08 7:15 pm

Okay, here is the updated information on pricing and shipping.

Celia Black, Director Marketing Communications for the KNFB Reader, read my post and sent me the following information for the new KNFB Reader.

“The retail price of the knfbReader Mobile software is $1595 US. The NOKIA N82 sold separately, ranges between $530 and $600.”

She provided the following web sources to check for pricing the phones:

She also informs me that the new KNFB Reader will begin shipping on Feb. 15, 2008. There is
authorized dealer information
on the KNFB web site.

Additionally, according to
The Ranger Station
one vendor is selling an all set up, ready to use mobile phone with the KNFB software and either the TALKS or Mobile Speaks screen reader, which will run a cool $2,495.

Update 02/01/08

The Blind Bargains web site
has an audio interview available, with James Gashel, Vice President of marketing for KNFB Reading Technologies. Mr. Gashel discusses the changes that have been made, as well as what may lie ahead for future versions of the technology.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Short Bus looks to be an interesting read

I received an email this week from an author and professional speaker, inviting me to review his new book, The Short Bus, which the email said was about ADHD/LD.

I must admit that I feel a bit humbled, but nonetheless honored to be asked to do this. I have written the author, Jonathan Mooney, a reply email, letting him know that I would like a review copy of The Short Bus, but asked if he had one which is accessible via screen reader.

I also took the time to check out Mr. Mooney’s web site,
And was tickled to find a link to read an
excerpt from The Short Bus.

After reading the brief passage, I can’t wait to get a full copy of this book. Mr. Mooney writes in a very personable and straight-talking style, grabbing the reader and taking him along on his own journey. The Short Bus is his memoir about growing up in the special education system. He has undertaken a 35,000-mile journey across America in a real short bus to carry out a grass roots promotion of his book. Along the way, he met “more than a dozen people who have been diagnosed as disabled or different.” Their diagnoses ranged from dyslexia to Downs syndrome to autism. He is able to write effectively about meeting these people and the impact they have on his perspective, dredging up memories of what it is like to be different in a society where being normal is the norm. Along the way, he takes the reader in with his humor and empathetic understanding of what it is like to have grown up riding that short bus the first time around.

And, remember, I’m saying this having just read that short excerpt. Mr. Mooney, I sincerely hope that you get back to me soon about this matter. After reading that excerpt, I’d love to read more.

About the author:
“My name is Jonathan Mooney and I am a proud member of the community of people with disabilities. I am extremely dyslexic and have been labeled ADHD. I did not learn to read until I was 12 years old and dropped out of school for a year in sixth grade. I was given a 50/50 chance of graduating from high school. I was told I would end up in jail. Yet I shocked the skeptics by graduating from Brown University in 2000 with an honors degree in English Literature. I am the author of a book called Learning Outside the Lines (Simon and Schuster), and over the last eight years I have lectured in 48 states and three countries on empowering students with cognitive differences. I have lectured at Harvard’s Graduate school of Education, the University of Pennsylvania, Teachers College Columbia University and thousands of K-12 schools.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hearing Parents Chose ASL: an article worth reading

I recently read a very interesting and well written blog post I’d like to share with you.

Hearing Parents Chose ASL
Mishka Zena explains what it was like for hearing parents facing the prospect of their infant girl who had just been diagnosed as deaf. They chose to learn ASL as a family and now that infant has grown into a 21-year old woman about to graduate from Gallaudet. The most critical information sources for helping them arrive at that decision, Mishka says, were , not the medical professionals, but rather the people who knew the most about being deaf—deaf people.

There are several noteworthy issues raised in this excellent post, reflecting the insight of one who knows the deaf world from the inside out. I would heartily recommend this piece as required reading for any DSS professional, particularly those who have had little or no exposure to the deaf culture.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More internship opportunities specifically designed for students with disabilities

After finishing yesterday’s post about the paid summer internships for students with disabilities at
Entry Point,
I did some searching and found a few other opportunities and wanted to share them here with you.

First, I found
Emerging Leaders,
Which, according to the official web site, is “a highly competitive program that places college students with disabilities in fulfilling summer internships and provides them with leadership development opportunities. Emerging Leaders partners with businesses to help them find outstanding young talent while also considering diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices.”

Also from the web site:
“Booz Allen Hamilton founded Emerging Leaders in 2001. The program currently is managed by the National Business and Disability Council."

There are 30 well-known, national employers participating in the internship program, including several financial, insurance, media, and pharmaceutical companies. The web site states that they are always seeking to expand this network of participating companies. So, if you happen to be a business that wants to help provide internships for students with disabilities, make sure to get in touch with the contact person named on the site.

Secondly, I found,
Experiential Education Programs for College Students with Disabilities
(Note: This is a Google html version of the original MS-Word document. A link to the original version is contained at the top of the Google html page)

This document is a gathering of various internship resourcess for students with disabilities. There are specific program names and locations where the internships take place, as well as associated web sites for more information. It does contain the two previous ones I’ve listed and linked above.

Finally, there are several U.S. government programs targeting students with disabilities, including
The U.S Department of Agriculture
(or USDA),
The U.S. Department of State's
student programs division,
And, even though it is not a federal agency, there is the internship program of the
American Association of People with Disabilities,
(or AAPD, which I list here because the organization has arranged government internships at several of the various federal agencies.

I’m certain there are other paid internship programs specifically designed for college students with disabilities that I have not listed. If you have one that you know of and want to share it, please leave a comment below.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Paid summer internships specifically for students with disabilities

Internships for college students, either undergraduate or graduate, are great exposures to career opportunities and valuable, professional learning venues. While many of these are unpaid, offering the experience as the most valuable asset to be gained, there are some that are paid. As one might imagine, there is usually a fierce competition for internships, especially the coveted paid ones.

I suppose the question to then be asked is, "Where does this leave students with disabilities in the competition?"

Some might argue that this jockeying for internship opportunities is a great introduction to the competitiveness that exists in the real-life workplace and that the students with disabilities need to get a taste of it to get themselves ready for life after college.

Okay, so for an answer to that question, how about we flip that coin. How about a paid internship specifically designed for students with disabilities?

Yes, such opportunities do exist and these don’t mean doing meaningless busy work at some sheltered environment set up just for those “poor, handicapped students.” There are actually some great opportunities that are paid summer internships coordinated through
Entry Point,
A program of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

From the Entry Point web site:
“The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has developed unique partnerships with IBM, NASA, Merck, NOAA, Google, Lockheed Martin, CVS, NAVAIR and university science laboratories to meet their human resources needs. Working with its partners, AAAS identifies and screens undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are pursuing degrees in science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some fields of business, and places them in paid summer internships.”

Granted, these internships are going to only be interested in specific degree fields related to the needs of the involved organizations and businesses, but the opportunities do exist.

Please share this information with any of your students who may qualify and be interested in these opportunities.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Update: New wiki-style resource being proposed for blind and visually impaired

I just came across an interesting blog that is seeking input and feedback from the blind/visually impaired community.

Wiki Visual Impairment blog
is seeking to find funding to launch a
Style of web resource of information related to blindness and visual impairment.

However, to get the funding, they have to show that there is a grass roots support network that is willing to work on this project, hence the call for feedback.

What will set this apart from the scattered collection of web resources which already exist is that it seeks to be the one-stop shop for information related to blindness and visual impairment, with the provided information coming from the most authoratative people to speak on the blind/VI experience— blind and visually impaired people themselves.

From the blog:
“Now, what if we had one resource available to us where all the knowledge and experience of the blind community could be found – from how to cook and eat a lobster, to how to diaper a new-born, to what assistive devices work and do not work, and why? A resource where researchers, service providers, family members, prospective employers, educators and anyone seeking information on any topic related to blindness and vision loss, could access the knowledge of those who can provide a perspective that no one else can – those of us who are living the experience.”

“In order to obtain the necessary funding to begin developing a wikipedia on blindness and vision impairment, it is critical that we demonstrate that there is widespread grass-roots support from those who have the most to gain. If you are prepared to assume an active role in establishing and maintaining a wikipedia on blindness and vision impairment by being a contributor and sharing your knowledge and experience, or if you are willing to allow your name and comments on the value of such a resource to be used in proposals for funding, please contact Penny Zibula at 404-4321-6111 ext. 6795, or e-mail
Your name and comments will not be used without your permission.”

So, if you’re blind or visually impaired and willing to contribute on this collaborative effort, contact Penny Zibula via one of the contacts above. If interested in reading more information about the wiki, check out the blog linked above.

Update: 01/27/08

I apologize for any false hope this post might have presented to anybody. Unfortunatley, it seems that this idea has faded into history as nothing more than that, a great idea and nothing more.

The blog for the venture seems to have fallen into a state of abandonment as well. I skipped right into the original post I linked to above myself without noticing the last posting date on that blog was 18 months ago. I tried to email the contact person listed and promptly got an email bounce notification informing me that this was no longer a working email address. So, that was another dead end.

I tried one more technique in an attempt to get the blog author to acknowledge what the status of the project was. I left a comment on that post. Unfortunately, I appear to have been the only real person to have done so, as there were 26 comments above me, each of which were spam comments trying to get readers to click on links to some unrelated web sites.


Oh well, the idea is still a good one.

Perhaps the
Blind Net
Web site may fulfill the dream of the group. Blind Net offers very similar content to that which this proposed wiki was going to have, only it is not in a wiki format.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rolling: This documentary offers insightful perspective of wheelchair users

Imagine what the perspective on life is like for somebody who uses a wheelchair.

That’s the subject of a new documentary aptly titled

The perspective is authentic, as it was filmed by cameras mounted on the wheelchairs of three Los Angeles residents who agreed to have them affixed to their chairs as they went about the daily tasks of life. The viewer gets to see how life is viewed at their homes, work, the doctor’s office, and general everyday situations. The footage was filmed over a two-year span and was originally more than 200 hours, but has been condensed into a one-hour showcase of life from their vantage point.
This novel and insightful film is slated for showing on many public broadcasting stations during the next month.
(Click here to see if it is airing on your local PBS affiliate.)

I was a little disappointed to see that KUHT, the Houston-area PBS affiliate, was not among that list, as I’d really like to check it out.

However, if you’d like, the documentary’s official web site does have a link that will let you view a fairly long clip of the film , just to give you a taste of it. Do check out the film’s official web site linked above, as it has a few more related links to check out that are useful and informative, as well as information about the film's producer.

A special thanks to the
Disability Nation blog
For the above information.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

In not too distant future, cars may drive themselves

Of all the associated losses that accompanied my onset blindness, the one that has probably bothered me the most over this timespan was the loss of independence. When I say this, I mean the overall independence that comes from being “able-bodied” and includes the ability to jump in a car and go wherever I want, whenever I want. That independence means that I wouldn’t have to coordinate my schedule with anybody else, that I wouldn’t have to wait until it was convenient for somebody else to take me where I need to go.

Even if it was just down to Dairy Queen to grab a Blizzard, I want the ability to do that and, I’ll bet that most people with a severe disability would like this same ability.

From what General Motors is reporting, it may not be too long before we c a
car that drives itself.

It is neat to envision a world like the one being described in this article, one where human error is taken out of the transportation picture. Some have claimed that when we remove the human factor from driving, our roads will be exponentially safer.

About ten years ago, I heard Paul Harvey reporting in one of his daily commentaries about a car that did all the driving and the people in the car just rode along to the destination they gave it. This was, of course, on some safe and secure test track, but Mr. Harvey reported that the car performed flawlessly. The only downside was that the passengers who would have normally been driving the vehicle said that they did not like it. Their complaint? They had nothing to do during the trip and the drive was now very boring.

I don’t know if the drive will be boring, but, I for one, will look forward to the day that I can get in a car and go where I want to…without my wife cringing at the thought of me alone in the car.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Happy New Year...Best of 2007

Happy belated New Year!

With the holiday break, travel, and a long-running cold affecting the writing and publication of Access Ability for the last several weeks, I am now back and can now declare that I wish you a happy new year.

To mark the New Year, I will offer what most sites do at the end of the year—a look back at 2007. In this, I will also discuss what I thought were the most useful and breakthrough products.

First, I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to all of the Access Ability readers. I placed a counter on the site in January 2007 and since that time; the site has received nearly 10,000 visitors. Yes, I do look at my traffic referrals and understand that many readers come by way of search returns for specific information. However, I also know that I have some regular readers in several states and in countries outside of the US, and appreciate each of you. I am also encouraged and enthused by the comments and email I have received. With that in mind, I promise to work diligently in 2008 to continue what has been built here at Access Ability.

Now, here are my recommendations for the best products of 2007.

Best accessible hardware: Olympus DS50 digital recorder

The line of the Olympus DS 30, 40, and 50 digital recorders hit the marketplace early last year with a flurry of press releases, which were soon followed by various blog posts touting the out-of-the-box accessibility of the devices. Many people raved about these accessible, digital recorders and, as I soon found out, the praise was well deserved.

I waited a few weeks before wading into this purchase, carefully reading the reviews that were coming out. Once I made that plunge, though, I was left asking only one question—Why did I wait so long?

I’m impressed with the ease of operation of this lightweight recorder. There are audible tones to acknowledge the various buttons being depressed and audio feedback of the several menu items. It works superbly in different recording settings and is easy to upload the files to the computer. This device has impressed me like no other in several years. The fact that it is an off-the-shelf product that is accessible by design, and not some specialty blind product, is a particularly encouraging sign that manufacturers are taking notice that accessibility is achievable and doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

The unit comes with some proprietary software to transfer the files, which I found to be the most inaccessible part of the experience. First, you have to find the serial number and enter it to allow the software to run. Then, the software was unstable on my computer, often crashing before I could use it. It is much easier to just attach the included USB cable and transfer the files to the computer using Windows Explorer.

Still, this is the most enjoyable piece of technology I’ve purchased in many years. The product definitely lives up to the promised accessibility and all of the features work as advertised.

If interested, there are a couple of very useful tutorial podcasts on the
Blind Cool Tech
Web site that can teach blind users the various functions of this remarkable product. These tutorials include a recent addition that shows how to set the clock and calendar independently, a feature that many thought would definitely require a sighted person to perform.

Best accessible software application: Goldwave Audio Editor.

I know, I know…
isn’t a new product, but I discovered it this year, so it makes my 2007 list. I began playing around with the demo of this powerful, yet affordable audio editing program last spring. I remember that I had just submitted a lengthy digital recording to the Disability 411 podcast and I remember feeling like I should have been able to do more on the editing side before I sent it in. Beth welcomed the guest submission and also reassured me that she would do the time-consuming editing work. However, that feeling of having only done a so-so job prompted me to look around at an accessible audio editing application.

On the
Blind Geek Zone
web site, I found a well-produced and straightforward audio tutorial on how to use Goldwave with JAWS. Rick even included a self-extracting JAWS script to make it work with JAWS keystroke commands. Within a few days, I felt like a semi-professional music editor. With more time and practice using this software under my belt today, I feel very accomplished at the abilities I’ve developed with this application.

Goldwave comes in a fully functioning demo mode, allowing the user to execute 3,000 commands before expiring. (If you don’t already know, that’s a lot of audio editing!) I never used all of these allotted commands in the demo mode. I was so impressed after using the program for only a few days that I gladly shelled out the $45 registration fee to get the full version. Since that time, I’ve used the program countless times.

With the ability to precisely edit audio files to minute detail, and the fact that it is completely accessible to blind computer users makes me marvel at the quality of this program. It only takes a little time to learn the basics for editing with Goldwave and this makes it rank high in my book.

Best assistive technology innovation: System Access To Go screen reader.

A couple of years ago, I loved the fact that JAWS could be run from a USB flash drive. This gave the power of a screen reader to go, which, in theory, could run on any computer. The only trick was that there was one particular file that had to be installed on the computer. To get the network administrators to allow the blind computer user to place this unrecognized file on their protected system was often a challenge, thus limiting the portability that JAWS was attempting to innovate.

Then, in 2007,
introduced the true portability of computer access with System Access To Go. This breakthrough software allows a blind computer user the ability to go to any internet-connected computer and with a few keystrokes, to begin to use the software. The product was introduced to the public with an open beta period, during which anybody could sign up for a free account to test drive the screen reader. Serotek continues to demonstrate the insight of its target users by offering month-to-month service or the option to purchase on a 48-month payment plan.

Not only did Serotek make assistive technology truly user-based, instead of computer-based, but they have also done so at prices that show that assistive technology doesn’t have to break the budget of people who are often on fixed incomes. The screen reader giants such as Freedom Scientific, the maker of JAWS, would be wise to be wary of this company and its abilities.

Hats off to Mike Calvo and Matt Campbell for pulling off this innovation, whose ripple effects I believe will be felt in the assistive technology world for some time to come. Additionally, I have a strong feeling that Mike and Matt will continue to bring about further innovation in the assistive technology field.

Okay, that’s my list for 2007. I know there were other innovations and updates to existing products, but these three are the ones I actually experienced and was the most impressed with.

Now, let’s bring on 2008!