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profoundly yours the abledbody blog

Disney has announced plans to unveil audio description assistive technology for its outdoor theme parks as it currently does for more than 30 narrated indoor attractions and rides. Audio descriptions, provided via headsets, guide visually impaired guests and others who can’t fully experience the visual aspect of visiting a Disney theme park. Using assistive technology audio description devices, guests can still hear ambient sounds but will also receive descriptions of scenery, props, and characters around them. These audio descriptions will extend beyond indoor rides and shows and out into the streets of Disney’s theme parks and will even offer audible versions of restaurant menus for those who can’t read them. Disney’s assistive technology system, which was introduced in 2005, is offered as a free hand-held device to park-goers. It also includes features for deaf and hard-of-hearing guests, such as amplified sound and hand-held captions. Disney licenses the technology to Houston-based Softeq Development Corp., ... keep reading »
My favorite gadgets at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association conference, which featured more than 100 vendors, include two communications products and a new PDA for the blind. I also note some worthy mentions – gadgets that I liked because of their design or originality. Here’s the list. ECO2 This eye-gaze system brings the latest in alternative input. For people who cannot use their limbs, nor speak (perhaps someone with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease – or a person who has had a stroke), Prentke-Romich’s ECO2 is a great innovation. To calibrate ECO2, I followed a bouncing ball on screen while it recorded my eye movements – this takes all of 30 seconds. The program, a combination of words, phrases and pictures, can be operated using just the eyes, allowing someone to express their thoughts (and their gratitude for this program.) ($7,795) Proloquo2go An iPhone/iTouch app for people who have trouble communicating, Assistive ... keep reading »
In a much anticipated release, at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference HumanWare and Code Factory debuted Oratio for the BlackBerry, the first-ever screen reader for the visually impaired using this smart phone. Oratio uses text-to-speech technology to convert the visual information displayed on the BlackBerry screen into audio output. Finally, visually impaired persons who don’t have an iPhone can have an accessible experience (the iPhone uses Apple’s proprietary VoiceOver screen reader.)   I wrote about this excellent, up-in-coming product in my book, though the name has been changed from Orator to Oratio to avoid any confusion with an existing product called Orator being manufactured by a telecommunications company in the USA. “Although we got accustomed to the name Orator for BlackBerry in the last few months, Oratio is less generic and provides a more personalized name and sound for the product,” says Michel Pepin, Product Manager at HumanWare. The ... keep reading »
The media is talking about braille and literacy, a topic jump-started by a New York Times Magazine article, “Listening to Braille,” by Rachel Aviv. The author writes that new technology may be undermining Braille literacy as people who are blind are now “reading” via e-books, iPods, telephone news services and other text-to-speech devices. Aviv’s article centers on education: Teaching braille in order to inform language structure and help blind children read and write better. While she touches on the economics of technology, I wish she had gone deeper into this issue. The cost of reading Braille really does need to be stressed. Aviv writes: “Braille books are expensive and cumbersome, requiring reams of thick, oversize paper. The National Braille Press, an 83-year-old publishing house in Boston, printed the Harry Potter series on its Heidelberg cylinder; the final product was 56 volumes, each nearly a foot tall. Because a single textbook can cost ... keep reading »
When Apple announced a host of new features for its next-generation iPhone in March, they unveiled a few surprises, but kept the best ones under wraps. Until today, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple revealed gigantic news: its new iPhone 3G S has a built-in screen reader for people with visual impairments — bringing this group one step closer to total cell-phone accessibility. The 3G S introduces VoiceOver for iPhone, Apple’s proprietary screen reader that speaks what appears on the iPhone display. VoiceOver lets visually impaired users make iPhone calls, read email, browse web pages, play music and run applications. TOUCH-SCREEN TECH. VoiceOver is already built into the Mac and iPod Shuffle, but for iPhone this screen reader is a whole new ball game. Calling it the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, VoiceOver for iPhone reads aloud what is touched on the screen. Users can then gesture with ... keep reading »
Despite efforts by blind advocacy groups, the U.S. has sided against a World Intellectual Property Organization treaty agreement that would make books accessible to more blind and visually impaired individuals, as well as those with dyslexia or physical disabilities, throughout the world. The Obama administration, the governments of Canada and the European Union, and several other countries have opposed this initiative, which was introduced by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay and supported by many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia and Africa. Other supporters include the World Blind Union, the National Federation of the Blind, Bookshare and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, among others advocacy groups. Proposal advocates want to expand a U.S. copyright exemption to allow books to be distributed in alternative formats — such as text-to-speech, Braille and large type — to blind and visually impaired individuals around the world. The treaty would have ... keep reading »
A blind blogger has started a letter-writing campaign asking President Obama to support global access to books for the blind and visually impaired. Darrell Shandrow, a technical support engineer who is the editor of Blind Access Journal, is petitioning the White House to direct U.S. delegates in the World Intellectual Property Organization to sign an international treaty that would expand U.S. copyright exemptions to blind and other people with print disabilities in the rest of the world. People with visual impairments are able to purchase “talking” versions of print books under a copyright exemption called 17 USC Section 121 that allows certain authorized organizations to make books accessible without the constant need to obtain written permission from publishers. Organizations include The National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) and Physically Handicapped, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Bookshare and ReadHowYouWant. Visually impaired persons can “read” these books on a digital e-book ... keep reading »
Today I had a column published in Media Post’s Marketing Daily, titled “A Costly Gamble”. I talk about how companies spend heavily on product development and marketing, but fail to consider people with disabilities who might use their products. Here’s an excerpt: “This oversight seems irresponsible: In the U.S., 54 million adults — or one in five Americans — have a physical or mental disability. People with disabilities have a combined income of more than a trillion dollars — and are willing to spend it on products and technologies that make their lives more productive. Brands that ignore the needs of this group relinquish an opportunity to reach this growing demographic. They also put their business at a higher risk for costly lawsuits, such as the $6 million in damages that Target paid in 2008 for failing to make some of its Web content accessible to blind people.” Please check it out ... keep reading »
Amazon introduced a new version of Kindle, its electronic book reader. But once more, the device fails to include many assistive technology features. To be sure, the Kindle 2 includes a sleeker design and a lighter console. For the disabled, the most interesting feature by far is a text-to-speech function that allows readers to listen to books with a robot-like computerized voice that is delivered — some say — with a Eastern European accent. What’s interesting is, though Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos didn’t say as much, his company partnered with a key assistive technology company, Nuance Communications, to build the speech capability into the Kindle 2. Nuance is the maker of RealSpeak software, which is the same technology that enables text-to-speech on Nokia cell phones and Freedom Scientific’s JAWS screen readers to make them accessible for the blind and visually impaired. Nuance also makes Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a speech-recognition program that’s ... keep reading »
As I wrote in a previous post, most multi-touch smart phones — like Apple’s iPhone — aren’t suitable for blind and visually-impaired persons. There’s good news, however, in the form of a prototype case from Portugal-based industrial designer Bruno Fosi. The Silicon Touch lays on top of the iPhone’s screen and works in tandem with an accompanying iPhone application, helping the user feel the icons and what it is they are typing. There are also many nice features like text to speech and moon type tactile feedback, which the iPhone lacked for the visually impaired until now. In my opinion, what makes Silicon Touch so promising is how Mr. Fosi has re-thought how a person physcially interacts with a smart phone: Surprise! It doesn’t have to be just a visual user interface. One comment from a Yanko Design reader: “The idea can be applied to any usage scenario requiring [or] ... keep reading »

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