Friday, August 29, 2008

NLS continues its progress in digitizing book collection

The following press release was just issued by Missouri’s Wolfner Library regarding the awarding of a contract for the manufacture of cartridges that will be used to distribute digital books from the
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS.)

The unwritten word of this release being issued means that the NLS is moving to the final leg of preparing the books for wider distribution. By having the books available on distribuble cartridges, the books will be available in a format that can be mailed, not requireing the reader to have a computer or internet connection. If they are awarding this contract, then another contract to make players for these cartridges can’t be too far away. After all, what good are the cartridges if consumers don’t have a player.

Granted, people using playback devices such as the Victor Reader Stream already have the capability to insert and play the cartridges, but they can play the files without a cartridge if they’re able to download them from the internet.

But That’s not who the NLS is looking to serve with these cartridges. By making the digital collection available on cartridge means that the NLS is looking to make the books available to a wider audience, such as those who do not own a digital player and still use the 4-track tapes. The purpose of the NLS program is to make books available to those who have a print disability. That mission includes making the accessible books available at no cost to the consumer. If the consumer wants to purchase their own playback device, then they are free to do so. But there are some who can not afford that luxury and rely on the playback devices that are issued by the NLS.

The digitization continues!

Here is the press release:

Subject : Northstar Systems Inc. to produce digital audio cartridges for the talking-book program


Northstar Systems Inc. of Rancho Cucamonga, California, was awarded a contract on August 22, 2008, to manufacture USB flash-memory cartridges for use in distributing recorded audiobooks to patrons of the talking-book program by the Library of Congress on behalf of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Washington, D.C.

The initial contract funding of more than $6.2 million will enable Northstar to manufacture audio flash cartridges on which NLS will record both new and existing titles over the next year. The base contract covers three years with a unilateral government option for four additional years. The books recorded on these cartridges will be distributed to the net work of 128 libraries that serve approximately one-half million blind and physically handicapped individuals through the United States and its territories.

The cartridges purchased under this contract will permit all NLS recorded books to be issued on either 512 MB or 1 GB cartridges. This will enable each recorded book to be contained on a single cartridge, greatly improving the current patron's experience of receiving multiple four-track cassettes. In addition, Northstar is obligated to furnish participating libraries and interested patrons with blank cartridges at prices fixed in the contract. Specific procedures for purchase by these parties are being determined.

Northstar has a manufacturing network that includes plants in Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, China, and Singapore, providing a total of one million square feet of production space.

The corporation is an active member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, SD Association, USB-IF Committee, Compact Flash Organization, and MemoryStick Organization.

In June 2008 contracts were signed with Shinano-Kenshi Corporation Ltd./Plextor-LLC of Culver City, California, to begin production of digital talking-book players and with LC Industries in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, to produce mailing containers for the cartridges.
This Northstar Systems contract is the final agreement necessary for the conversion of the national talking-book program from analog to digital.




Richard J. Smith, Director
Wolfner Library
Missouri State Library
P.O. Box 387
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Phone: 573-522-2767
In Missouri: 800-392-2614
Fax: 573-526-2985
Email:
richard.smith@sos.mo.gov

Web Site:
http://www.sos.mo.gov/wolfner

Blind Bloggers group offers resource for problem solving

This news is not directly related to DSS at colleges and universities, but does relate to issues of web accessibility, and is very particular to myself as a blogger who is blind.

Blind Bloggers
is a new group on
Google Groups,
which is just what its name states, a group for bloggers who are blind.

Boy, does this bring back memories. I recall some issues I used to have when I first began blogging where I needed to ask somebody a question about using Blogger with a screen reader. Thankfully for me, I knew two people, both blind screen reader users, who helped me solve problems as they arose. This group is one of those “slap yourself on the head” kind of ideas, where you say, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” The group gives a gathering place for those who have some knowledge to share with others who might encounter similar problems. It is yet another resource to reach for.

For background, the Blind Bloggers group spun off a conversation on the
Accessible
Google group.

The question was raised if a group existed for blind bloggers. One of the now 13 members of the Blind Bloggers group was seeking a resource to resolve some problem she was having and it was an issue that might be typical for bloggers who were blind.

Voila! A star was born.

(Thanks to
Tim O'Brien
for starting the group and letting me know about it.)

We now resume our normal blogging day.

Update: Target settles lawsuit over inaccessible web site

If you haven’t already heard,
Target has settled with the National Federation of the Blind
On the lawsuit brought by the disability rights group over the inaccessibility of the Target web site.

Target Corp. will revamp its Web site to make it more accessible for the blind and pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs who joined a class action lawsuit against the retailer, under a settlement announced yesterday with the National Federation of the Blind.



The national retail giant did not admit any wrong in the settlement and company officials have stated that they made improvements to the Target web site after the filing of the lawsuit.

"The NFB is very hopeful that this will be sort of a wake-up call to companies to pay attention to the issue of accessibility and that it is in their best interest to make their Web sites accessible to the blind," said Chris Danielsen, an NFB spokesman.



Speaking as a person who uses a screen reader, I’m personally very pleased to see this whole matter settled. First, the matter illustrates how businesses that operate on the web impact the lives of blind and visually consumers. Secondly, the settlement means this has been resolved and we can move forward from here. Progress is being made, albeit one step at a time.

For me, “Do the right thing” is a personal mantra, one that I believe in and pass along wherever and however it applies. In this case, Target began by not doing the right thing, but by application of the proverbial stick, they’ve come to see the light and do the right thing. Unfortunately, it is going to cost them some money in the process. They should’ve tried to take the carrot approach and just done it right when they first found out their site was inaccessible.

Update: 09/02/08

Its been said that in a compromise, neither side is fully happy. Maybe that explains why, since the news of the Target settlement has had sufficient time to make the rounds on the internet, opinions of this case vary. To understand some of the contrast, here are two different takes on this matter.

First, in The LA Times article supporting
E-commerce for the blind,
the editors posit:

It's good business -- and it's the law -- for companies to make their websites fully accessible to the visually impaired.



And, to take a differing viewpoint, read
NFB/Target Settlement Falls Short
On Disability Nation, where the editor offers the following:

While the costs for providing training may be somewhat realistic, the payments that Target must make to the NFB over the next three years cause me to wonder about their real purpose for being involved in the case. Target is to pay the NFB $50,000 immediately and then another $40,000 within 12 months. This is followed by additional payments of $40,000 over the next few years. According to the settlement it appears the total of these payments will be $210,000. These payments are to cover the costs that the NFB will take on in monitoring the accessibility of the Target site. Combine this amount with the figure they will receive for providing Target employees with technical training on accessibility and you arrive at a figure likely at or above a quarter of a million dollars.



I’m certain more discussion of the accessibility issues and agreement between these two parties will come in time as the dust settles on this matter. And, I’m just as certain that even more dust will be stirred up in its wake as other sites fail to understand the legal implications of this suit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A great resource for finding, researching, and downloading books

One of the recent
Fred’s Head Companion
Posts has a very comprehensive listing of resources for finding, researching, and downloading books. It is the digital equivalent of the mini tour school libraries used to give students.

Be warned, this post is long, but there is an incredible amount of information offered up. It is worth your time and effort to check it out. This would be a great reference page to bookmark for any college student, whether they have a disability or not.

Its even a good resource for coordinators of the DSO. How can you teach something if you don't know the resources that exist? This is the perfect site to direct your book-seeking students to, which will empower, not enable, them.

Kudos to Michael McCarty and the fine folks at Fred’s Head Companion for a job well done.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Disability 411 Episode 56 features interview with Kelby Brick

The latest episode of the Disability 411 podcast is hot off the press.

One of the big announcements is that the web site can be reached with an easier to remember address,
http://disability-411.com
.

Please make sure to notice the dash in the site’s address. Some address harvester had taken the even simpler to remember Disability411.com domain already, so it wasn’t available. And, if you have a bookmark for the old address,
http://disability411.jinkle.com,
don’t worry—that domain still works, too. Beth just tried to make it easier for listeners to remember.

And, no, I’m not plugging the show because it has a guest submission by yours truly. There is some fantastic news in
Episode 56
Of particular interest to Deaf consumers.

This show features an interview with Kelby Brick, of
GoAmerica.com,
Who discusses the latest news in Deaf communication, the ability for Deaf consumers to get 10-digit phone numbers.

If that doesn’t make sense, then check out Episode 56 and see why that is really big news. I think you’ll understand why this communication evolution is another technological step for the Deaf community. For further information about this historic breakthrough in videophone relay signing, check out
Kelby's announcement
on the Go America site.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

National Federation of the Blind to distribute free, white canes nationwide

The
National Federation of the Blind
is undertaking an “historic initiative …the largest effort ever of its kind to provide white canes to individuals who are blind or have low vision.”

In an action I’ve never heard of before, the NFB is offering
Free white canes across the USA.

It is estimated that 109,000 of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States use a white cane. By supplying canes free of charge, this program provides the opportunity for all blind Americans to have a white cane and to participate fully in society.

The National Federation of the Blind will provide a straight, light fiberglass cane to any blind individual in the United States or Puerto Rico who requires the cane for personal use. Canes are available in the following lengths: 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, or 63 inches. Individuals may only request one free cane the cane for personal use. Canes are available in the following lengths: 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, or 63 inches. Individuals may only request one free cane in any six-month period.



Here is the link to
apply for a free NFB cane.

This is also a well-timed campaign to help raise the awareness concerns that come with
White Cane Day,
which is coming up on October 15.

Most blind people have a white cane provided to them by their respective blind rehabilitation agency, but as anybody who has used one of these knows, with use, white canes do get banged up and bent and need to be replaced. This is a good two-fold effort of the NFB to provide a service to their target community and also promote their organization.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Study putting pancreas cells in patient's arm; impact could lead to diabetes breakthrough

Some promising research is being conducted right here in Houston for people with diabetes.

Doctors at The Methodist Hospital are experimenting with a new treatment for the diseased or injured pancreas in which they remove the organ and implant its insulin-producing cells in the patient's arm or leg.



While it might sound like a wild idea,”
Putting pancreas cells in the arm,
Is really very logical, according to Dr. Craig Fischer, the lead researcher of this project.

The research, conducted on the first patient a month ago, is part of an ongoing inquiry into how best to prevent diabetes in a person whose pancreas has been removed because of pancreatitis, trauma, or benign or early-stage malignant tumors.

The work could also speed up national efforts to use stem cells, the building blocks of tissue, to cure Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.



I have several friends and one young, family member with diabetes, so I understand the impact this can have on somebody’s life. I’m personally praying for finding a cure.

Ghotit offers free tool for students with dyslexia

Get it? Ghotit? Good!

The
Ghotit
software is a free application, which is web-based for now, and may be useful for students with dyslexia or related disabilities.

Ghotit offers unique writing and reading online services for people who suffer from dyslexia, dysgraphia or people who are not native-English speakers.


The program appears to be a souped-up spellchecker. The designers are continuing to implement advances under the hood to make the application more robust. Recent additions to the features of this browser-based application include compatibility with Apple’s Safari 3.1 browser and text-to-Speech service. (At this time, the TTS is only availble using the Internet Explorer browser.)

And,
A Ghotit plug-in version,
is coming soon which will let the tool run within the application the student is using, instead of requiring a browser window to be open as well. According to information he’s received from the developer, Lon Thornburg reports that this version will be free as well. (See Lon’s post for more information on how to obtain this future version at no cost.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Legal changes coming to refine definition of service animal

I’ve written here previously about the importance of colleges and universities acting proactively to enact policies between service animals and other types of assistance animals. I can personally recall the discussion we had at my college in regards to service versus therapy animals. Here's some reasons to compel your school to do the same.

If you were not aware, the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the federal guidelines that govern access, including some proposed language changes in regards to the definition of a service animal.

My apologies for not getting this information up sooner. The deadline for action on this is Monday, August 18, 2008. So, please act quickly on this.

What follows is a letter that
The Seeing Eye, Inc.
sent to its more than 1,700 graduates, urging them to provide the DOJ with firsthand input from service dog handlers. It shows the sometimes subtle distinctions that a few words can make in proposals and policy.

The law will be tempered, so keep up on it. If your school has a policy in place, you will do well to stay abreast of this matter and keep your policy in line.

***


Dear Seeing Eye Family,

We need your help! The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking public comment on its newly proposed definition of a service animal. The Seeing Eye sent its own comments to the DOJ last Friday, and we urge you to join us by doing the same by the August 18 deadline.

Numbers count! It is vitally important that the DOJ hear as many comments as possible. In fact, this legislation is as significant as the early advocacy work that Morris Frank did for the dog guide movement decades ago. The fight isn't over, and our position needs to be heard. Submitting your comments is one of the most important things you, personally, can do for yourself and all other U.S. dog guide users.

The areas that seem to be most in need of revision are outlined in our letter below. Simply stated, we ask that the DOJ eliminate the phrase "minimal protection" in the new definition; require that the same behavior and training standards developed for dog guides be applied to all service animals; delete the "do work" wording by emphasizing task training as a defining factor in qualifying animals as "service animals;" and include a request that more guidance on taxi and private transportation access be added to the regulations. (See the Seeing Eye comments below to further illuminate these points, or to access a copy of the DOJ's Notice of Proposed Rule Making in either text or PDF format, you can go to
http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocumentDetail&o=090000648062a604

You can submit an electronic version of your comments at
http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=SubmitComment&o=090000648062a604
but you must do so by August 18.

Your comments can be as simple as, "I support The Seeing Eye's position on service animals," but even better is to write your own opinions on all or some of the issues addressed in our public comment.

You will have an option to insert comments directly into a field on the form or send your comments as an attachment. We advise you to write your comments first before logging onto the site because if you are on the web page too long, it will "time out" and you will have to start over again. You should also be aware that all comments, including your own, will be made available for public viewing online at
http://www.regulations.gov

The remainder of this email contains the text from The Seeing Eye's submitted comment. Thank you for joining us in this effort.

Sincerely,
Jim Kutsch

****




August 8, 2008

Dr. James A. Kutsch, Jr., President
The Seeing Eye, Inc.
P.O. Box 375
Morristown, NJ 07963-0375

Re: Revisions to Service Animal Definition
Docket ID: DOJ-CRT-2008-0015-0001

The Seeing Eye, the pioneers and innovators of dog guide services, has been providing specially bred and trained dog guides for blind citizens of the United States since 1929. Through the efforts of one of our founders, Morris Frank, and other early graduates of our program, The Seeing Eye was instrumental in gaining access to all places of public accommodation for people traveling with dog guides. Today, as more and more people turn to animals for improved health and quality of life, The Seeing Eye commends the U.S. Department of Justice for its efforts to clarify its present regulatory language regarding the use of service animals. We particularly welcome the emphasis on maintaining control of the service animal at all times in public settings, the requirement of housebreaking and the Department's effort to formalize its position on emotional support/comfort animals.

In response to the NPRM published in the Federal Register on June 17th, The Seeing Eye offers the following comments for the Department’s consideration:

1. In response to question 9, The Seeing Eye believes that providing "minimal protection" should be removed from the proposed definition of a service animal.

The Seeing Eye is in agreement with the concerns expressed by the Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations (CADO). We also concur that alternative language can be substituted for "providing minimal protection" while still adequately representing the tasks of specific service animals. For instance, despite the fact that dog guides provide minimal protection to their handlers every day, e.g. stopping at changes in elevation or maneuvering around obstacles, the Department has successfully included this concept within the definition of the tasks under "guiding individuals with impaired vision." Thus, providing minimal protection is intrinsically stated within the tasks that the animal performs.

2. In response to question 10, The Seeing Eye believes that the Department should eliminate certain species from the definition of service animal.

The Seeing Eye agrees with the need for the Department to establish a practical and reasonable species parameter as part of its definition of a service animal. While we have no expertise in the breeding, training and placement of species other than dogs, The Seeing Eye believes that only animals that are capable of meeting or exceeding the same high training, behavioral and safety standards as that of Seeing Eye® dogs are suitable for public access. Some of these standards include the animal's ability to calmly, quietly and consistently perform its specialized tasks in public, to urinate and defecate on command and to lie quietly beside its handler without blocking aisles, doorways, or otherwise be obtrusive in public settings.

3. In response to Question 11, The Seeing Eye believes that the Department should not impose a size or weight limitation on service animals.

The Seeing Eye agrees with the comments submitted by CADO and further adds that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce such a regulation.

4. The Seeing Eye is opposed to retaining the term "do work" in the definition of a service animal and urges the Department to form the basis of the service animal definition on task training.

The Seeing Eye is aware that, over the last several years, more than half of the Department's settlement agreements involving the "reasonable modification" requirement under Title III involved a public accommodation's refusal to permit a service animal's entry in a place of public accommodation. These claims make evident the need for concise, measurable guidance for those seeking a distinction between legitimate service animals and those used for emotional comfort or support.

We appreciate the Department's attempt to provide the broadest feasible access to individuals with service animals by using the term "do work" in its definition. However, given the fact that this term has historically been the source of much confusion and misinterpretation, we respectfully ask that the Department eliminate this language from its newly proposed definition. The Seeing Eye believes that the newly added examples of tasks performed by service animals effectively and adequately expand the meaning of service animal to include the varied services provided by working animals on behalf of individuals with all types of disabilities. Moreover, task training elevates the animal's status from a non-task trained animal to a trained service animal that is more likely to consistently mitigate its owner's disability in public and be easily identified by the tasks it performs. Again, service animals that are suitable and appropriate for public access must be held to extremely high standards.

5. The Seeing Eye urges the Department to include specific language about denial of service by private transportation providers to people who use service animals in its regulatory language.

One of the most common complaints we receive involves taxicab drivers who refuse to transport our graduates and their Seeing Eye dogs. Many drivers claim to have allergies, fears or religious beliefs that prohibit them from allowing dogs into their vehicles.

We realize that this issue is not addressed in the NPRM, but, nevertheless, we ask that the Department consider incorporating text into the proposed regulation guidance that specifies that allergies, religious beliefs and fear of animals are not valid excuses for denying access to passengers with service animals.

The Seeing Eye appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed service animal revisions. We applaud the Department for its outstanding work and believe that with the incorporation of the comments noted above, the revised regulations will promote the responsible use of access rights and prevent the erosion of societal tolerance for dog guide and other service animal teams in places of public accommodation.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review of TALKS Premium 3.52 mobile screen reader

Here’s the second half of my review of my Nokia N82, wherein I discuss the use of the Nuance TALKS screen reader. When I purchased this Smart Phone, I did so with the full intention of operating a screen reader on it so that I would get the full benefit of the phone’s functionality.

My previous experience with a text-to-speech (TTS) solution on a mobile phone was running the TALKS screen reader on a Nokia 6620. AT&T has a Center for Customers with Disabilities and at that time, offered to reimburse the cost of TALKS and discount the phone’s high cost if I committed to a two-year contract. Getting assistive technology for free and a 33% discount on a high-end Smart Phone was a no-brainer for me.

That was three or four years ago and I really liked the feedback that TALKS gave me. It allowed me to have unprecedented access to the information displayed on my cell phone. On top of that, it used Eloquence, my preferred speech engine, for TTS. I also bookmarked the TALKS web site for figuring out how to use this nifty technological wonder.

However, finding resources for support soon became difficult. As far as I knew, this was the only screen reader available for mobile phones and once I purchased the unit, I was basically on my own for figuring out how to use it. First, I misplaced the CD that came with the screen reader. AT&T offered nothing to help me out and the web site I had bookmarked soon began giving me that dreadful 404 message, “Web page could not be found.” That experience made me wary about ever using TALKS again.

So, when I was looking at purchasing a new phone a couple of months ago, I wasn’t so sure about getting one with TALKS. I looked at Mobile Speak, TALKS’ primary mobile screen reader competitor, which AT&T now features, offering it for only $89. However, because AT&T no longer sells TALKS nor do they sell the N82, they also do not have a license to support the N82 with the Mobile Speak screen reader. That meant if I wanted to change to Mobile Speak for my TTS solution, I was going to have to pay full retail, about $295, for it.

I spent some time doing some web research and found that I could get a handset license transfer for TALKS, which included an upgrade to
TALKS Premium
For only $99 from
TalkNav,
A U.K. company.

I read over the associated web sites and found that it seems that today’s support for TALKS might be better if I opted to do this. I said, “What the heck, its only $10 more than the AT&T subsidized offer,” and jumped on it. And, I found there were additional reasons that supported sticking with TALKS.

That explains how I got back on the TALKS train. Let me now delve into my thoughts about the latest version of TALKS Premium 3.1.

The Good


Of course, the familiarity of the Eloquence speech engine remained a strong selling point for me. My biggest concern was figuring out the keystroke combinations to perform commands with TALKS. This was resolved by receiving TALKS user’s guides in both audio and MS-Word format. Now, I can easily go in and figure out what to do if I inadvertently change some of the TALKS settings. This user support was what I was missing in my first go-round with TALKS. Primo!

TALKS Premium 3.1 is so much more than what I had the first time around. This package includes the Zooms screen magnifier, which would be a great tool for anybody who is low vision. Being I’m totally blind, it wasn’t anything major to me personally, but this is definitely a good thing to know for discussing this as an access solution for other people.

The ability to label icons is a big thing, though. Just as on most computer programs, mobile phones often rely on visual icons to present information and controls. On my PC, I have the ability to label graphics with JAWS, so it is a good feature to find this included in TALKS. And, this is one feature that their competitor doesn’t have.

In my previous experience with TALKS, just running the program on the phone was a battery killer. My Nokia 6620 couldn’t be turned on for eight hours without dying. And, that wasn’t even using it to talk. Just having it turned on and in standby mode, drained the battery. That’s not the case today, though. Whatever improvements were made with the TALKS program or the phone, it is all for the positive. I’ve gone more than three days without needing to recharge the N82. What a nice change that has been.

Though I am not a Braille user, TALKS does support the use a Bluetooth Braille display with the N82. For some people, I can see where this would be another strength of the TALKS application, particularly in meetings where the user could mute the audio and still access the displayed information.

The Bad


There is only one gripe I have with TALKS. It gets hung up sometimes and repeats what it is saying continuously. It is basically a hiccup, sounding like so many CD players used to be like in the early days, when a smudge on a CD or a slight bump would cause the player to get hung up on a word or note. I am not sure how long TALKS will go on hiccupping, because when it does this, I always press another button to perform some other operation. This works to make it quit repeating. Also, TALKS doesn’t do this all of the time, just sporadically. Still, its buggy in that regard.

Overall Thoughts


Three to four years ago, I got TALKS on the 6620 so that I could have access to the number of incoming calls, feedback on the numbers I was dialing, and the ability to know the battery and signal strength on my phone. These features were things I’d never known on previous phones and were exactly what I was looking for from a mobile screen reader. In that regard, my previous experience gave me what I wanted. Trading that off with the battery drain left me feeling a little lukewarm, but I still like the accessibility that I’d never had on a cell phone. The biggest downside was not having any kind of accessible user’s manual.

All that is history with the latest incarnation of TALKS. I enjoy its robust abilities and receiving the support material in various formats is a definite plus. With TALKS Premium 3.1 operating on the N82, I’m able to do so much more than just those rudimentary tasks I used to do on the 6620. I breeze through the menu-driven Symbian operating system, easily going to the various folders and applications I want. I operate the powerful 5-mega-pixel camera in both image and video modes, looke over the songs and play music with the music player, and I’m looking forward to doing so much more after I get a Bluetooth keyboard.

I have played a bit with the internet on the N82, connecting on open WiFi signals when I’m out and about. It has been encouraging to be able to read the latest news headlines on my default home page. There is so much more potential for me to use this with that Bluetooth keyboard. I personally dislike typing in letters from the keypad, finding it monotonously slow and mentally dulling. So, with the ability to type on a keyboard, I should find some smoking, new horizons on this phone, all made very accessible with TALKS.

Also, when I get the keyboard, I will more easily use and manage my contacts on the N82. This will lead to so much more personalization of the phone for me, as well. I love using the Goldwave audio editor and will assign specific, personalized ringtones to each of my contacts. But, I need to get this where it is a practical task first, meaning I need to get that keyboard soon.

One feature of the N82 that I’ve yet to explore is its built-in GPS application. A friend keeps asking me if I’ve tried it out yet, and when I reply in the negative, he chides that this is one of the best features of the phone. Perhaps, but I’ll use it when I’m interested and feel comfortable that TALKS will provide accessibility to the information just as well as it does in other applications on the phone.

Other aspects of the phone that I’ve not yet attempted are viewing documents in the N82’s included office package. While the phone will display them, I’m not certain if TALKS will read the Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations. I will take on this task at a later date and possibly provide an update to this product review.

Finally, I am not certain if that hiccupping that TALKS sometimes presents is a unique problem, or it is something other users are experiencing. If it is a common bug, then Nuance should be able to remedy this with an update. If it is an individual problem, though, I can either just live with it or try re-installing the software. Either way, I perceive this as only a minor flaw at this time.

The price for the handset transfer was a great deal for me. However, if somebody is a new user of this mobile screen reader, then the initial cost would be approximately $295, the same as the retail price of Mobile Speak. I've not used Mobile Speak, so I can't offer a comparison between the two. For me, though, TALKS was the right choice.

The Bottom Line


I envision seemingly endless potential ahead for me in this new Nokia. It is such a powerful phone, with many features I find attractive. The key to enjoying these features, though, lies in the accessibility TALKS is providing. I am very glad that I made the decision to try TALKS one more time. Not only was it a very affordable TTS solution, but it also offers the comfort of familiarity and a well-supported user experience.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Code Factory releases DAISY reader for Symbian mobile phones, includes 30-day free demo

Wow! The tech staff at Code Factory never slow down. They've released a DAISY reader for mobile phones such as those from Nokia that are running the Symbian operating system. They promise that a version is on the way for Windows Mobile as well.

This news is a great innovation in several aspects.

  1. Allows people with print disabilities the ability to access DAISY documents and books on their mobile phone without needing to purchase some other, free standing hardware device

  2. one of the most usable features the product offers students is it allows them to place bookmarks for specific locations, including the ability to include voice annotations to accompany the bookmark

  3. Does not require a screen reader to operate, but does work in conjunction with either the Mobile Speaks screen reader or those produced by other companies
  4. Includes adjustable font and color configurations, maximizing usability by users who are dyslexic

  5. Automatic unpacking of books from Bookshare.org, eliminating the need for a seperate unpacking utility.



Below is the Code Factory press release which I've copied from the email announcement. Or, go to the
Code Factory page
for a version that includes working links.


--
Caroline Ragot - Marketing Director
Tel. +34 93 733 70 66 - marketing@codefactory.es
Mobile DAISY Player V2.0
Mobile DAISY Player V2.0, the only DAISY Book reader for Symbian 9 Phones is available!
Download the free trial
Barcelona (Terrassa), August 8th, 2008
Code Factory, the world's mobile accessibility provider, today announced the release of version 2.0 of Mobile DAISY Player, the only DAISY reader to work with mainstream mobile phones.

This release is just one more way in which Code Factory shows its commitment to enabling reading on a mobile device as an easy and pleasurable experience.

"We at Code Factory have always realized that mobile devices have the potential to give blind and visually impaired users unprecedented access to reading material wherever they are”, explains Eduard S├ínchez, Code Factory's CEO. "Mobile DAISY Player has a unique role to play in allowing access to books from many different sources on many different mobile phones. A short time ago, a blind or visually impaired user was at a distinct disadvantage in that he/she had to carry large Braille volumes, many cassette tapes, or a specialized player if he/she wished to read on the go. With Mobile DAISY Player, however, a blind or visually impaired user, with a DAISY book, has an even more portable method of reading than his/her sighted colleagues, since he/she can carry many books on a mobile phone which he/she would be carrying in any case."



Why is Mobile DAISY Player unique?


• Mobile DAISY Player V2.0 is the only accessible application which reads DAISY books on Symbian Mobile Phones. A version compatible with Windows Mobile devices will soon be released.

• Reading books in Mobile DAISY Player V2.0 is very easy: simply create a folder on the memory card, usually known as (E:), called "books", and copy each of the books into a subfolder of that books folder. Book content is generally either downloaded from the web or available on CD, in either case, copy all of the book contents into the destination folder.

• Includes support for DAISY 2.0 and 3.0 formats, allowing access to a wider variety of content and providers.

• Automatic unpacking of Bookshare.org books, making it unnecessary to install and run a separate application just to decompress Bookshare files.

• You can record your own voice annotations as bookmarks within the content. These voice notes will appear in the bookmark list, and the sound recordings will be heard automatically when the book is in normal playback mode.

• Configurable font sizes and screen colors have also been implemented to provide maximum readability of on-screen text, especially for dyslexic persons.

• Mobile DAISY Player can be used with or without Code Factory’s world-leading screen reader, Mobile Speak. When combined with Mobile Speak, Mobile DAISY Player becomes a fully-accessible e-book solution, providing speech feedback of the screen prompts and menus as well as speaking the book contents. For those users who do not need a full-fledged screen reader, Mobile DAISY Player can still take advantage of the Nokia’s built-in text-to-speech support on S60 phones to read text content. In either case, Mobile DAISY Player is an independent product, and is licensed separately from Mobile Speak.

• Two modes of navigation: the normal reading mode and the virtual cursor mode. The normal reading mode is active when the book is in continuous playback mode, and is playing either audio or text content. When playback is paused, the virtual cursor mode is active, allowing you to navigate the text content of the book, if any, using the screen reader.

• Rewind and forward in cassette or digital mode.

• Mobile DAISY Player can be used with other screen readers, although other screen readers may not offer the same level of integration as Mobile Speak, particularly when reading text books. For example, all of the normal screen prompts and menus will be accessible within Mobile DAISY Player. However, other screen readers may not recognize the book text as a special type of content, and may attempt to read it at the same time as Mobile DAISY Player. For this reason, we recommend that users of other screen readers temporarily mute speech while in book reading mode, and then resume speaking when switching to other applications or when using the application menus. Mobile Speak does recognize the book contents and will mute itself automatically during playback.



Apart from all these unique features, Mobile DAISY Player V2.0 also includes:


• Variable playback speed allowing audio content to be reproduced faster or slower than the speed at which it was recorded without changing the sound’s pitch.

• Variable navigation levels (e.g.: by chapter and/or by page).

• Quick and easy navigation to any point in the book.

• Support for text-only, audio-only, or mixed-mode books.

• Ability to set bookmarks to favorite places in the content.

• Auto-bookmark and resume to last point in the book.

• Variable volume level.

• Customizable Text-To-Speech support via Mobile Speak.


Mobile DAISY Player 2.0 supports the following Nokia Symbian 9 phones: 3250, 5320, 5500 Sport, 5700 Xpress Music, 6110 Navigator, 6120 Classic, 6121 Classic, 6124, 6210, 6220, 6290, E50, E51, E60, E61, E61i, E62, E65, E66, E70, E71, E90 Communicator, N71, N73, N75, N76, N77, N78, N80, N81, N82, N91, N92, N93, N93i, N95, N95 8GB, N96.



Visit http://www.codefactory.es/downloads and install Mobile DAISY Player on your mobile phone and it will automatically work free for 30 days. While using a trial license, you cannot change the date or the time of the phone. Changing the date or time will automatically lock the trial license, without any chance to recover it. Please make sure that the time and date are set correctly on the phone before installing the software.


To buy Mobile DAISY Player, contact your closest distributor:
http://www.codefactory.es/en/purchase.asp?id=54


Don’t miss the Reading on the go competition, more than $20000 worth of prizes to be divided among ten winners. To learn more go to http://www.codefactory.es/en/page.asp?id=251. To join the competition, go to
http://www.codefactory.es/en/page.asp?id=251. To join the competition, go to http://www.codefactory.es/contest .
http://www.codefactory.es/contest .



About Code Factory
Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Terrassa/Barcelona, Spain, Code Factory is the global leader committed to the development of products designed to eliminate barriers to the accessibility of mobile technology for the blind and visually impaired. Today, Code Factory is the leading provider of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces for the widest range of mainstream mobile devices including Symbian-based and Windows Mobile-powered Smartphones as well as Pocket PC phones and PDAs. Its product line is the only one to support phones working on the GSM, CDMA and WCDMA networks. Code Factory's success lies in giving excellent customer support and in responding immediately to the needs of its end users.

Among Code Factory’s customers are well known organizations like ONCE, and carriers such as TMN, Vodafone, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and AT&T. The company also collaborated with leading TTS providers and Braille manufacturers, thus enabling Code Factory to provide excellent text-to-speech technology in many languages for Mobile Speak products, and to incorporate support for over twenty wireless Braille devices into the software.





For more information, feel free to contact Code Factory S.L.:


Code Factory, S.L., Rambla d'Egara 148 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona)
Tel. +34 93 733 70 66, info@codefactory.es, www.codefactory.es
Code Factory, S.L. - 2008

Updated: Yahoo makes accessibility progress, but CAPTCHA remains inaccessible

While the opening of this post might sound negative, this is actually a post to acknowledge Yahoo for some advances in user accessibility which were recently added to their email operations.

Its been a while since I wrote about the inaccessible process which
Yahoo
Has in place for setting up new accounts. In the past, I’ve aired publicly my problem with
Yahoo’s inaccessible CAPTCHA verification process,
And later added to that, when I wrote about
Yahoo’s acknowledgement that it was inaccessible.

Those two previous posts were about only the problems blind people have using Yahoo’s set up procedures. Once the account was set up, the account was accessible enough to read one’s mail and delete unwanted mail. It was also fairly easy to press the “Create New Message” button, then write and send mail.

However, there were still some problems I didn’t write about in using some of the various buttons on the site, such as those to reply and forward selected messages. It was often a hit-and-miss process on whether these buttons would work when activated with the JAWS screen reader. Most often, though, it was miss as nothing would happen. I have to think that this was a problem with the web site, because executing button commands on other web sites has never been an issue for me.

Today, I’m back to give an update on some progress the Yahoo Mail site has made on usability by users with screen readers. Unfortunately, that is not relating to the CAPTCHA situation. That problem still exists.

I use a Yahoo Mail account for my contact information on this blog. It allows me to freely give out my email address online and not worry about my home email inbox getting inundated with spam. (Yahoo Mail does seem to have a pretty good, although sometimes inconsistent spam filter.) For the most part, I use the Yahoo account to receive news alerts to which I subscribe. But I also receive email via my blog contact information to which I’d like to reply. That is where the problems used to arise.

In the past, When I would hit the “Reply” button, it would do nothing. The next option I had was to forward the message to my home email, but when I hit the “Forward” button, it was equally impotent using a screen reader. The only option I had left was to copy the message sender’s email address and paste it into a message using my home mail client.

This entire process was both frustrating and cumbersome, and seems like such a ridiculous concept in this technologically advanced age. After all, isn’t the purpose of advancing technology to make life’s tasks simpler?

The good news is that Yahoo Mail has worked out the button bugs. It is a fairly simple task today to use all of the button commands on my account. This slight shift in accessibility was silent and implemented without any fanfare a few months ago. I would think that Yahoo would want to bang its drum when it enables accessibility, so it is beyond me why they didn’t make any announcement on this technological advancement. It had to be an intentional fix, because the Yahoo developers definitely changed something.

So, congratulations to Yahoo Mail for making their web site more accessible and usable to their visually impaired clients who rely on screen readers to access their accounts. And, another round of applause for addressing an issue which I’ve not noticed much negative press about on the web.

This is a good start. Now, if Yahoo could just show such effort in incorporating an accessible CAPTCHA solution. (Hint to Yahoo developers: accessible solutions already exist. Email me at my
Yahoo account
And I’ll be happy to reply to you with more information!)

Update 08/11/08
I am appreciative of the submission of an anonymous commenter for his/her shared observations on Yahoo! mail. I believe these thoughts echo the complimentary nature of this post and feel compelled to share these insights. Screen reader users pay attention to the first point about these changes only relating to the "Classic" version of Yahoo! mail.

One thing I would point out to the readers is that many of the changes that you talk about are in the "Classic" version of Yahoo! mail and not the "New" version.

My personal favorites are alt plus 3, alt plus 6, and alt plus 7 for compose mail, reply, and reply to all respectively. The addition of headings at important parts of the page makes navigation a breeze. JAWS users will appreciate the ability to use table reading keys to move up and down within folders of messages.

I have been a Yahoo! mail user for almost ten years both before and after I started using a screen reader. It is a great service made even better by the addition of these keystrokes.

The lack of an alternative to a visual CAPTCHA is another story and one that I just cannot grasp. This really needs to be addressed by the entire industry.



Thanks for that added perspective!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Review of the Nokia N82 Mobile phone

I recently purchased a Nokia N82 cell phone and want to share a review of my experience with the phone and also about using it with the TALKS screen reader. In this post, I’ll just discuss the phone. I’ll follow up with another post later about the TALKS experience.

The N82 is the latest in Nokia’s line running the Symbian operating system. That OS is a must if you want to run a screen reader on the phone. The other option is to have a phone from another manufacturer that runs the Windows Mobile OS. What that all means is that you’ll pay a good chunk of change for one of these Smart Phones, no matter the make.

For somebody who is blind and seeking a fulfilling mobile phone experience, you need to ask yourself what is accessibility worth to you. Personally, I want to know what number I’m dialing, who’s calling me, and to have full access to all the features of the phone. I also like to know my battery and signal strength before making a call. For those various reasons, buying a Smart Phone that can run a screen reader is worth the investment to me. If I’m going to have a cell phone, then I want one that can give me information just as well as if I were sighted.

This phone comes loaded with tons of extras that make it useful and desirable to those wanting a high-end phone. One of the big features I like about it is there is both Bluetooth and a built-in WiFi card. With this WiFi card, I don’t need to subscribe to a data plan to access the web on it, and I can do this from anywhere I have an open WiFi connection. It also comes with a GPS system. And, finally, I’ve also read that it is the only phone with a 5 mega pixel camera, which, with the built-in xenon flash, offers some great photographic experiences. One online review I read of the N82 said that it takes great nighttime pictures from short distances.

One of the potential future uses of this phone for me is that, being it is a Smart Phone with a 5 MP camera and flash, it is ideal for running the
KNFB Reader Mobile
OCR software. Right now, I don’t have a real need for this application, but if aspects of my life change, and that need arises, this phone is an ideal machine to run that OCR scanning system. I would need to justify the nearly $1,600 cost of the KNFB program to myself and the only way I could see that happening is taking a job where I’m either needing to read documents regularly or traveling alone a good deal. Still, it’s a real peace of mind to know that I have the right phone to do this.

The Front Face


The N82 is a candy bar style phone, meaning it is open-faced and the keys exposed.
Being that the phone is open-faced, when users who carry it in their pants pocket as I do, there is a strong potential for it to have buttons pressed inadvertently and to make unintended calls, all without the user’s knowledge. The N82 solves this problem by initiating an automatic keypad lock after about 30 seconds of inactivity.

At first, I didn’t like this automated lock as I thought it created an unnecessary extra step for me to unlock the keypad every time I wanted to do something on the phone. Additionally, I wasn’t able to unlock it on my first try. I had to work at it to get the buttons pressed just right. With practice, though, this has diminished and is hardly a problem any longer.

What has also happened is that I have come to appreciate the keypad lock. On several occasions, I’ve been doing something where I accidentally bump the phone inside my pocket and I hear TALKS announce, “Press unlock and then star.” Whenever this has happened, I’ve just been thankful that the keypad was locked.

And, if you’re wondering about answering incoming calls with the keypad locked, that’s not a problem. I’ve taken several calls where the keypad’s been locked. When the phone rings, you simply push the green “Send” button and you take the call just as if it were unlocked. When you hang up, TALKS announces, “Keypad locked,” to remind you that you are back in that mode. That also once again locks the “Send” key to prevent accidental dialing.

This phone has the traditional layout of the Nokia phones. It has a directional “D-pad” in the center, just under the 2.4” diagonal screen, with a soft key on either side of it. My previous phone, a Nokia 6620, had a small joystick instead of the D-pad, but the functions are identical. Just below those keys is the usual phone keypad.

The soft keys and D-pad are easy to discern by touch. The D-pad is a square that has a raised lip on its outer edge. That lip helps blind users know exactly where that D-pad ends and just where to press to get that directional push.

The soft keys are a bit different from those that I was used to on the 6620. These are almost flush and harder to feel, except you know that the D-pad ends and the soft keys begin immediately on either side of it. The left soft key also runs pretty flush into the “Menu” key right below it. It took a bit of playing to figure out that this functions as the TALKS button, used to initiate a keystroke command. The right soft key has an extra button sticking up just under it, which is easy to notice as it projects outward just like the normal keypad does. That is the “Multimedia “ button, which takes you to the folder of that name containing photos, videos, and music.

Perhaps the trickiest key to find on this phone was the "C" key. This key functions as the phone's delete key, which is also the key needed to back up one space when entering a wrong digit. On the 6620, it was easy to find on the right side, just below the “End” key. However, the only keys down the side edges of the N82 like that are the “Send” and “End” keys. (The 6620 had two keys on the right side corner and three on the left.) I had this phone nearly a week and a half before I figured this one out. It is just below the “Multimedia” key and just above the “3” key in the keypad array. Like the soft keys, this “C” key is nearly flush and its presence is difficult to figure out.

The keypad is normal in design and has no special functions assigned to the keys from Nokia. Yes, they do act as the letter representatives for text messaging and filling out forms, but there’s nothing new or big about that. Like the “Multimedia” key, the entire keypad is raised sufficiently to allow for quick tactile reference. The “5” key does have a raised nib on both the right and left sides to quickly inform the user that he is on that home key.

The Sides


Along the sides of the phone are some notable features and keys. On the left side, the jack for the charging cord is near the bottom. Above that is a small plastic panel that is tethered to the phone. It opens to allow access to the 2 GB micro-SD storage card, which is included and already installed when the phone is purchased. The box includes an adaptor that allows the micro-SD card to be inserted and used in computers. Above that slot is the jack for the phone’s micro-USB cord to connect it to a computer.

Along the right side of the phone are the unit’s two external, stereo speakers and some keys, but no jacks or slots. About a half-inch from the bottom of the phone is the right speaker, and the left speaker is in the same position on the top end of this side. The speakers are designed to add stereo sound when viewing videos, allowing you to view them in landscape mode and still getting full stereo sound. The button nearest the bottom is the button used to take photos. Just above that is another key used for photos as well. Just above that key is a rocker button used to raise and lower the external speaker volume.

The Top


On the top of the N82 are only two items to note—the power button and the external headphone jack. The power button is located in the middle of the top surface. This button is recessed just slightly, enough so that it is tactilely discernable. A feature worth noting is that when the phone is off and the user presses it in to turn it on, the button has a slight vibration to indicate that the unit is powering up. The external headphone jack will operate any headphones that use a standard mini-jack and the phone is shipped with a pair of ear buds included.

The Back


On the back of the phone is the camera. There is a sliding lens cover that automatically engages the camera feature when it is slid open. This works even if the keypad is locked, which is a handy timesaver when needing to get that quick shot at just the right moment. To slide that open, there is a raised control that will slide from left to right, when looking at the back of the phone. This is near the top end of the phone. Just below that is the flash and lens. The flash is on the left and the lens to its right, near the center of the phone. The phone is designed to be turned on its side when using the camera, so that the lens is on the bottom. That is why the button to take a picture is on the right side of the phone when looking at its face. Turn the unit into a landscape position with the photo button on top, and slide the shutter open, then click away.

Final notes


One other feature of the N82 is the music and video player. Nokia intends for this to be a multimedia device. The screen image will automatically shift from portrait mode into landscape mode when turned on its side. Remember the speakers’ positioning? Additionally, included with this phone is a second cable. This one is a video cable to attach your phone to a television to allow for sharing your videos. These can be ones you’ve taken with the built-in video camera or ones you’ve downloaded with that nifty WiFi card.

The phone is simple to operate and fairly intuitive. I’m personally not into texting, but the traditional keypad design makes this a real workout. I know, other people do it all the time, but I think a compatible, portable, Bluetooth keyboard will be my next purchase.

All in all, I have to say that this phone is very easy to use for anybody, whether they can see it or not. The downside is the price. If you look on Nokia’s home page, it is suggested to sell for around $650, but can be found for less at various vendors. (I found it for $400 at buy.com, and have since seen that drop another $20 or so.) Still, the N82 is not sold by any of the wireless companies, so there are no discounts available to make it more affordable by signing a two-year contract. In spite of the expensive cost, the N82 still provides one of the richest user experiences I’ve ever had with a cell phone. Using the camera is simple enough for my 6-year-old son to operate. The music player is good enough to let you hear your favorite tunes, even in noisy settings.

And, don’t forget that its still a mobile phone. The sound clarity, signal strength, and overall durability of the N82 all rise to the high level of expectation I’ve grown accustomed to with my previous Nokia phone.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

When Wikipedia Won't Cut It: 25 Online Sources for Reliable, Researched Facts

There was one other article I found in the library of
CollegeDegree.com
and it is one that just about any college student may find worth noting.

When the title of an article is
When Wikipedia Won’t Cut It: 25 Online Sources for Reliable, Researched Facts,
college students and professors alike should pay attention. I believe this article will be of use to any college student in this digital age, with or without a disability, and also whether they take an online class or not.

I remember very clearly the difficulty I encountered when writing numerous college research papers, trying to find sources that were accessible, and going online was the best and most useful way for me to do this independently. Adding to the conundrum was that professors often limited the number of online sources students were allowed to cite. I would meet with my professors and explained to them the difficulty I had in finding accessible material that was not online, and asked for some leeway in allowing me to use more than their usually allowed number of online sources. I was frank and honest in this request,asking them to trust me to screen out unreliable, uncredible web source material, and holding me accountable on this aspect. I can't remember a time when that request was not granted. However, I also remember that I worked hard to ensure that my sources were credible and valid, and, yest most of their domains ended with ".edu". That seemed to add to my professor's approval.

If you found either this post or the previous post I wrote about another article from the CollegeDegree.com library useful, you may be interested to know that another powerful feature of the library page is the subscription option so that you can sign up for the newest articles whenever they are published.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

100 Web Tools for Learning with a Disability

For a good and fairly comprehensive listing of assistive technologies to assist a wide spectrum of disabilities, check out
100 Web Tools for Learning with a Disability.

This rich article includes links for both free and paid software titles in the following categories:


  • * Text to speech

  • * Alternative formats

  • * Math help

  • * Physical disabilities

  • * Language disabilities

  • * Visual disabilities

  • * Hearing impairment

  • * General disability

  • * Concept mapping

  • * Web browsing


This is one of several articles posted in the library on
CollegeDegree.com,
a web site that matches users’ fields of interest with accredited, online, college programs. The site reports having 1049 programs and 115 colleges in its database.

I didn’t spend a lot of time looking over the colleges and programs on the home page, but the site has user configurable settings to narrow the search. Spend some time there and check it out if you’re interested. If you do, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

However, even without anything else, just that one article in the library makes it worthwhile. There are a few others listed on the home page, and a few more on the
Library page.