Friday, July 29

Put ICE in Your Cell Phone

ICE, or IN Case of Emergency, is an entry that you can enter in your cell phone that would contain your name, phone number, and other vital information. This would be useful if you ever found yourself at a hospital and unconscious. The emergency personnel could look at the ICE entry and be able to know your name and other needed info. Read more from MSNBC. Of course, the only problem left for us blind people without accessible phones is making the entry, but that's beside the point. Its still a great idea.

Broadband Battle Wages On

In honor of my friend Donna Miller getting Comcast Cable Internet today, I thought it appropriate to post about the battle of speed and customers that's going on between phone and Cable companies. Here are two articles that talk about the battle, but mor eimportantly, they give a glimpse into what the future might hold and what the various companies are hoping to gain.

Broadband Competition Heats Up from My Way News, and Broadband Speeds to Leap from CNN. The second article is particularly interesting since it says that broadband speeds are expected to reach a minimum bandwidth of 30 MBPS, and a maximum of 100 MBPS, next year!

Thursday, July 28

Blind Teen is Video Game Pro

Though I'm not a fan of violent games like this teen plays, you have to admire the fact that he's blind and can play mainstream games, and apparently very well. Blind Teen is Video Game Pro. Big kuddos to Kim Komando for having this story link in her daily email of various technology stories.

IE and Vista Betas Out Ahead of Schedule

Yesterday, Microsoft released betas of the new Windows Vista operating system and Internet Explorer 7 web browser. Vista is supposed to be out in wide release by the latter half of next year, and IE 7 sometime later this summer, or at least that's what I read a few months ago. Read more about the betas here. And, in case you don't know, a beta is a pre-release of a software/hardware package, meant for testing by people experienced in testing pre-release software. In other words, MS won't be offering support if you run into problems, though I'm sure they'd like to hear about the problems so they can fix them. We'll see if Vista and the new IE can live up to their claims, and if they actually are released on time, :)

Tuesday, July 26

ADA: A Job Not Done (Yet)

Americans With Disabilities Act: A job not done (yet)
15 years after its inception, the ADA has brought changes, but many still
are excluded, particularly on the job front Friday, July 15, 2005

By Jim McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the 15 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into
law, there have been major improvements in making public places and services
more accessible to people who live with physical impairments.

A group of people sit in their wheelchairs in front of the Capitol building
in Washington on March 12, 1990, to show support for a bill that became the
Americans with Disabilities Act.

The law, intended to ensure equal rights for the disabled, has brought a
host of changes in workplaces, transportation, communication and other
areas. Companies must make reasonable attempts to accommodate workers with
physical impartments, while buildings, transportation and other public
facilities must be accessible to all.

But even as the ADA is slowly driving changes enabling more people with
significant mental and physical disabilities to live independently, the
effects of exclusion are still felt, particularly in employment. That's
because the ADA, which became law on July 26, 1990, is a significant yet
imperfect piece of legislation, Mary A. Crossley, the new dean at the
University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said yesterday.

"I would not characterize it as a complete success, but I wouldn't
characterize it as a failure. I think it is an important piece of
legislation whose promise has not been fully realized,'' said Crossley, a
scholar in disability and health law, who came to Pitt last week from the
Florida State University College of Law.

"We still have a lot to do," Crossley said. "But [the ADA] is something I
celebrate as an important recognition that people with disabilities are just
like the rest of us, except they have some kind of disability, and they
should not be excluded or segregated or face limitations that people without
disabilities don't face."

Many of the architectural changes brought by the ADA have been embraced by a
broader group of Americans. Sidewalk curb cuts and ramps designed to help
people with disabilities, for example, are used by parents pushing
strollers, workers delivering packages and travelers pulling suitcases on

Likewise, captioning on television designed for people who are deaf or hard
of hearing is used by those not hearing impaired in noisy places like sports
bars. And new building and product designs that are ADA compliant have
universal appeal -- an adjustable podium, a stairless entrance, a computer
that can respond to voice commands or a voting machine that can read the
ballot in multiple languages are enjoyed by everyone.

Mary A. Crossley is the University of Pittsburgh's new law school dean. But
all those visible changes have yet to carry over where it perhaps matters
most for people with disabilities -- the job market.

The unemployment rate among people with serious disabilities is the highest
of any group of Americans, no matter their education or qualifications, with
roughly 70 percent of working-age people with significant disabilities not
working -- a level that has remained constant for about two decades,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"To a lot of us, that is disappointing,'' said Andrew Imparato, president
and chief executive officer of the American Association of People with

Of 49.7 million Americans of all ages with disabilities, about two-thirds
have disabilities that are classified as serious or significant.

The Census data is corroborated by a Harris survey commissioned by the
National Organization on Disability that last year found only 35 percent of
people with disabilities reported being employed either full or part time,
compared with 78 percent of those who do not have disabilities.

Three times as many people with disabilities live in poverty -- with annual
household incomes below $15,000 -- than people without disabilities, the
survey found. They are also more likely to need transportation and to go
without needed health care.

It should be no surprise, then, that people with disabilities are less
likely to socialize, eat out or attend religious services than their
non-disabled counterparts, Only 34 percent of those surveyed said they were
very satisfied with their lives.

Joyce Bender, an executive recruiter from Pittsburgh who has made a national
business out of finding jobs for qualified people with disabilities, called
the high unemployment among people with disabilities a "national failure."

For Bender, who discovered she had epilepsy 21 years ago after a hemorrhage
in a movie house, the ADA means she need not disclose in an employment
application that her seizure disorder is controlled with medication.

But she said employers 15 years after the act's passage still regularly ask
her to detail what disabilities her employment clients have -- a question
that is barred by the act as discriminatory.

"We still have a long way to go,'' said Bender, who operates employment
services in 13 states and expects to hire 100 new employees with significant
disabilities this year.

The problem, of course, is bigger than a legal statute. Although some people
blame the ADA for failing to curb high unemployment, Imparato said that is
not quite fair.

The ADA did not -- and was not meant to -- create all of the employment and
training programs that would be needed to lift up people with disabilities
who are undereducated so they could be competitive in job searches.

The simple fact is, there are people with disabilities who are trained and
qualified yet don't even get a chance to compete for jobs. Imparato said
employers have not gone after people with disabilities in the same way they
compete to find qualified women or minority applications.

"That is the kind of thing I'm hoping will change,'' he said. "I think of it
as almost generational. My children are going to be less likely to
discriminate than my generation, and hopefully their children will be less
likely to discriminate than they."

Much of the continued discrimination can be traced to stereotypes about
people with disabilities, said Clifford Payne, a vice president of
Accessibility Development Associates Inc., a Pittsburgh company that advises
business, government and other clients on how to cope with the ADA.

"The good thing is that the ADA has really changed society. Go to any
shopping mall and you will see people there independently in wheel chairs,
with their friends and family groups. You didn't used to see that,'' Payne

Some employers, he said, continue to drag their feet over making physical
accommodations to help people with disabilities. But Payne believes negative
attitudes are a larger issue.

"The biggest obstacle is the stereotypes about people with disabilities,
that people with disabilities will be more expensive to hire, that once I
hire them I can't fire them, and my personal favorite, I don't want to bring
a crazy person into my workplace,'' Payne said.

"People with mental health disabilities face an incredible amount of
prejudice and that includes people who take medicine for things like

Since the ADA's inception, there have been several court decisions,
including a few by the U.S. Supreme Court, that have narrowed the class of
people who are protected by the law.

In a 2002 case involving Toyota Motor Manufacturing, the court ruled than an
assembly line worker with carpal tunnel syndrome who was fired because of
her attendance record was not entitled to protection under the act because
it was not clear that she had substantial impairment of any major life

A similar rationale was used in a 1999 case in which a truck driver for a
supermarket chain was fired for not meeting visual standards. The company
refused to rehire him even after he obtained a waiver from the standards.

Also in 1999, the Supreme Court found that severely myopic twins who had
unsuccessfully sought pilot jobs with United Airlines were not actually
disabled because their vision could be corrected by eyeglasses.

Those decisions have led some advocates of people with disabilities to call
on Congress to legislatively update the ADA to counter the negative effects
of court decisions and make it more inclusive.

Crossley, Pitt's new law school dean, said amendments to the act may be
necessary but she suggested there are other steps to consider, including
gains in education and the passage of time, that could further help to end
discrimination and bring people with disabilities into society as equal

"Most of us, if we live long enough, will some day find an individual with
disabilities in our families."

A Clear Example of Discrimination

Chicago Tribune
Monday, July 25, 2005

Disabled face housing bias

By Antonio Olivo and Dave Wischnowsky

Landlord discrimination to potential renters told in Chicago study

EXTRACT: "a blind tester who showed up to an appointment with a cane and guide dog reported that the landlord failed to answer the door. When the tester
later phoned to find out what had happened, the landlord admitted that he was there, saw the tester and did not respond because dogs are not allowed in
the building."

Renters with disabilities in the Chicago area experience more housing discrimination than blacks or Latinos, according to a federal study that will be released

Half the time, potential renters who are deaf were treated worse than potential renters who could hear during an 18-month study by the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development. A quarter of the people reporting negative experiences never made it past the initial phone call, as landlords either hung
up on or cut off operators who were assisting the callers.

In other cases, renters who were blind or had mobility problems weren't even allowed to visit vacant apartments.

The study, based on 100 different contacts between landlords and disabled "testers" working with researchers, "confirmed information that we've previously
received in the form of complaints and unsubstantiated allegations across the country," said Floyd May, who oversees HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal
Opportunity. "We're not surprised by the findings."

In 2004, roughly 39 percent of the 9,100 complaints nationwide alleging housing discrimination came from people with mental or physical disabilities, officials
said. Housing discrimination of any kind is a violation of federal fair housing laws and can be punishable by fines of several hundred thousand dollars,
officials said.

HUD chose to test that trend in Chicago, not because the city is any worse than other metropolitan areas, but because the agency could work with a strong
group of advocates here.

The study, which the Washington-based Urban Institute helped coordinate, illustrated landlord prejudice faced by renters with mental or physical disabilities
through a variety of anecdotes in which disabled and non-disabled testers sought to rent the same units.

For example, one wheelchair user who showed up for an appointment to view an apartment was turned away when the landlady realized who her potential renter

When answering the door, the landlady "very abruptly stated, `No wheelchairs here. You can't come in,'" the unidentified tester said in the study. "She
asked me twice, `Can you walk?' I told her no. She said, `No wheelchairs here. No way in. Apartment's too small.'"

Later that day, a non-disabled tester visited the property, took an elevator up to see three apartments and left with information about rents, security
deposits and fees, the study states. In all, wheelchair users in the study were denied opportunities to inspect apartments 30 percent of the time.

Overall, wheelchair users had negative experiences 36 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent for Latinos and blacks in similar studies, the study
said. At least a third of advertised rental properties in the Chicago area are not wheelchair accessible, the study found.

In another case, a blind tester who showed up to an appointment with a cane and guide dog reported that the landlord failed to answer the door. When the
tester later phoned to find out what had happened, the landlord admitted that he was there, saw the tester and did not respond because dogs are not allowed
in the building.

Disabled renters in Chicago who were told about the study said the stories ring true. Bruce Reynolds, 36, and Tania O'Neil, 36, of Chicago, who are engaged
to be married, said they have been forced out of apartments twice because they are disabled.

Reynolds, who has cerebral palsy, uses two crutches to walk. O'Neil, because of congenital neurological conditions, often needs a cane. Reynolds said the
couple were living in an apartment building on North Sheridan Road earlier this year when its owner learned about their disabilities and wanted to force
them out.

"One day the owner came up to change a light bulb and batteries for our smoke alarm," Reynolds said. "Then he went downstairs and said to the manager, `Why
are you renting to crippled people? They belong in a nursing home.'

"They didn't want to work to accommodate people with physical disabilities. And they didn't believe that we could care for ourselves."

Reynolds alleged that in an attempt to force him and O'Neil out, the owner had someone try to force entry through the couple's locked apartment door.

"They wanted to move our furniture out when we were gone," Reynolds said. "I heard the guy say, `Damn, they're always home.'"

In late May, Reynolds and O'Neil decided to move into Eden Supportive Living, 940 W. Gordon Terrace, which, according to building president Mitch Hamblet,
is the first 100 percent accessible apartment building for disabled individuals in the country. Reynolds and O'Neil said they enjoy their new home but
are still smarting from what happened at their old one.

"It made me feel small, to be honest with you," Reynolds said. "Very small."

Bryan Greene, director of policy in HUD's office of fair housing, acknowledged the cases of discrimination in the study aren't always clear-cut, particularly
among those involving telephone devices for the hearing-impaired, where landlords who hung up on callers may have simply been annoyed or confused by the
technology, which uses an operator to relay the typed messages of the caller.

Still, "you have people out there with the misperception that working with a telephone relay system or assisting a person with a disability is going to
be overly complicated," which is itself a form of prejudice, Greene said.

Greene urged disabled renters who've been discriminated against to call the agency's hotline--(800) 669-9777--and said the study can be used as a guide
to root out landlord discrimination against the disabled in other cities.

He said that HUD intends to use the study in Chicago to launch investigations against landlords who allegedly discriminated against the testers.

"Now that we know the persons who've engaged in discrimination, we'll be looking to follow up with enforcement," Greene said.

The ADA Turns 15 Today

Yes, that's right, the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 15 today. It was signed into law by the first President Bush, on July 26, 1990. Though the ADA has done a lot for disabled people in general, it is still a very young law, and thus, there's still many people that are unaware of it. I will be posting two articles on the ADA and its impact, or lack thereof. I will leave it to you to decide if the ADA has really made any impact at all.

I will say that it has made discrimination and segregation of disabled people illegal. However, discrimination and segregation of the disabled still goes on. I've seen it firsthand. At the time that I used my guide dog several years ago, I was told that I could not enter a restaurant in my small college town. I chose not to pursue a lawsuit, but it did occur to me that I was not able to go where other people could go. I can tell you that I was certainly more familiar with the ADA and what it meant after that incident.

The ADA has also allowed the disabled person to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," which is good. Just because someone offers an accommodation to you, doesn't mean that you have to take it. For instance, I may not want to sit up by the driver on a bus. I may want to sit in the middle or in the back of the bus.

Dont' get me wrong; the ADA has made it necessary for people to consider the disabled. Whether they do or not is another matter. However, if they don't, and if I feel that I was discriminated against in a job interview, I now have legal action I can take against that employer. Before July 26, 1990, I did not. So, for all its qquirks and potential loop holes (such as the broad definition of a "service animal," thereby allowing any animal to be considered a service animal, whether it be a dog, guide horse, or a therapy pig that might fly on a plane), the ADA is still worthwhile.

With all this as background, I submit the following articles, one that recognizes the ADA's impact, and one which illustrates that discrimination still happens today, even though its illegal.

Monday, July 25

"So, what do they really have backstage?"

I was surfing around earlier this afternoon, and came across The Smoking Gun: Backstage Pass page, which includes the riders for many music groups, past and present. For those that don't know, "riders," are instructions that many groups and managers of groups give to the people that book them. They are lists of what the group requires to have backstage. They can range from soft drinks or beer, to flowers, to empty boxes. Why anyone would want six empty boxes backstage is anybody's guess, but that's exactly what one group requires. I suppose that if the terms of the rider aren't met, the group may have the ability to refuse to play at a particular venue. I'm not sure. Anyway, I had lots of fun going through the various riders for several artists, such as Limp Bizkit, Moby, Prince (or whatever he calls himself today), and others. The groups listed range from country, to rock, to metal, to R&B, etc.

Not all of the pages will have readable text on them, much to my chagrin. Like some of the links for Metallica brought empty pages, other than the links to the various numbered pages. However, they must have a detailed rider, since their's was 24 pages long. But, many groups riders are accessible. Anyway, it's a great time kill, if you've got nothing to do or if you are trying to put off doing something. Enjoy.

Online Shopping on the Rise

As many may know, I am a big fan of online shopping, since it provides convenience, ease of shopping, and independence for blind/vision impaired shoppers. Instead of getting a friend to go with me to the local music store and having them spend 30 minutes or more, reading off albums and songs, I can browse to my hearts content and get all that information online. Here's an article that appeared in the Arizona Republic about the online shopping industry, entitled, Ease of Internet Enticing Shoppers, which talks about where the industry is and where it might go, along with the downsides of online shopping. I don't see Net shopping, or e-commerce as businesses call it, slowing down anytime soon. In fact, since e-commerce is still in its beginning stages, relatively speaking, who knows how it will change and grow in the next 10 years.

Sunday, July 24

WinZip Purchase by Turnaround Specialist

That's right, WinZip has been purchased by a new company. I'm sure it will still be free for download. However, the question now is can this new company make the paid version attractive enough for people to buy, so they can make a profit?

CNET had a great article on the purchase entitled, WinZip Purchased by Turnaround Specialist.

Friday, July 22

Microsoft Announces Name for New Windows

No, unfortunately, Longhorn will not be the name for the Windows operating system, as much as attendees and graduates of the University of Texas might like it to be. No, the new name for Windows will be: ... "Windows Vista." Personally, I think that Vista is a more creative name than the number/letter designations that Windows has gotten so far. XP was kind of cool, but Vista implies a new view, a perspective, or it does for me anyway.

Read more from Reuters.

Tuesday, July 19

PM Vs. mPower: a biased, but comprehensive, review

I welcome any comments, positive or otherwise, on the following review.

On Thursday July 14, I saw the BrailleNote mPower. A sales representative from HumanWare, who shall be nameless, came to my workplace to promote this newest product in the BN line. Note that when I say "BN", I'm referring to the BrailleNote. I've tried to refer to the mPower by name when I talk about it, but "BN," might also mean mPower. I have several thoughts on this product and on what the representative said. This is one of the longer posts that I have done, so get comfortable with your favorite beverage, and let's get started.

First off, let me say this: its about time the BN caught up to the PAC Mate (PM). The new mPower has many things that the PM has had for quite awhile, such as a USB port, stereo sound when wearing headphones, streaming audio, a built-in microphone and the ability to make recordings, and more. The major hardware differences that the mPower has added are extra USB ports, an SD card slot, and built in Bluetooth. However, the Bluetooth isn't that big of a deal since a PM user can buy a Bluetooth card to go in one of the two compact flash slots.
Software differences are not as long, but there are some notable ones, such as: an X-scale processor, which improves the speed of activities within the mPower, 128MB of internal storage area (the PM has only 10.5MB), and several minor differences in menu structure.

As I said before though, the PM has had many of these things for quite some time. And, what it doesn't have, I'm certain Freedom Scientific either has or is looking into implementing. Though, before anyone writes me on this, I have no inside information on any PM development, as much as I wish I did. What I do know is that FS does buy at least one of every kind of note taker when the said device comes out, in order to evaluate what the competition has that the PM doesn't have.

I'm going to break this entry down into sections, with my comments and the representative's comments sprinkled throughout.

Open or closed. As many may or may not know, the PM has an open, Windows style interface and the BN family has a closed, custom design system. The open interface means that you can add, if you wish, third party applications and programs. Verses the closed system where you can't add anything, even if you wanted to; you're stuck with the system you use. The representative came back several times to the fact that it has to do with design, interface and marketing. He said that their products are marketed so that a second grader can sit down and start using the device immediately, with minimal instruction. The downside of this is that you cannot add third party applications, which is a huge selling point to the PAC Mate, in my opinion. Sure, the programs you add may or may not work, but the fact is, you can add them to see if they do work. And many times, JAWS can be scripted to work with the new program. At one point, I even asked him, "But what you're really saying to someone is, 'You have to conform to our interface'." At which he said, after a short pause, "You're right."

The representative said that the major groups that purchase BN's are in education related fields, such as teachers and students, of many different backgrounds. When I asked him about adding third party applications, I mentioned things like a freeware thesaurus or dictionary. He asked me how well this dictionary or thesaurus might work, and what the person would do if the program is not supported by HumanWare. He pointed out that he cannot sell a product that runs programs which are not supported. I responded with, "But if it doesn't work, just uninstall it and try something else." He said that he could not do that; that it goes against his design principles and marketing, of selling products that may or may not work with programs. This point came up again and again in our discussions.

Infra-Red (IR) control. Both the PM and BN have an IR port on them, however there are differences in how they use them. The PM allows you to beam to and from the IR port, files, contacts, appointments, or other things. Both the PM and BN allow you to use your cell phone as a modem and use the IR port as a wireless connection. However, on the BN side, this is the only thing that they have done with their IR port. I sited, as an example, the FS Commander remote control program that Freedom Scientific has developed for the PM, in which you can program in various remote controls into your PM. So you can sit on your couch and only use one device, instead of several, or so you can control your stereo, or any device that receives IR beams. The representative said that this kind of program would not sell as well in the educational market. For whatever reason, he kept coming back to this point in our discussion, even when we had moved on to other things. I'm not sure what he was trying to communicate by doing this. I suppose he was saying that they couldn't develop third party programs like FS Commander and effectively distribute them, given the education sector they mainly sell to. However, when I countered with the fact that they could open their system up to dictionaries or thesauruses, the question of how usable they would be on the BN was constantly brought up. Anyway, the point is, the PM can interface with an unlimited number of things with its IR port, whereas the BN can only interface with a cell phone. I asked him if other programs or devices would or could be made to work with the BN with its IR port, and truthfully, he never answered the question. He danced around it and eventually came back to why FS would develop a remote control program and the fact that HumanWare couldn't sell that kind of program to their market audience.

BN and Maestro. I'm sure many people by now know that PulseData HumanWare and VisuAide merged in early 2005. HumanWare Canada (formerly VisuAide), manufacture, market, and sell the Maestro Hand held Organizer, which is an off the shelf PDA that has been made accessible, but which gives access to off the shelf programs in a Pocket PC environment. The question has been asked many times, by myself and others in the blindness field, including people inside HumanWare I'm sure, of which product will stay and which will go. Or, if HumanWare will keep and continue to develop both. I asked the representative about this, prefacing that many companies have only one product line for a given type of product. They may have several different models or kinds of that product, but they only have one product. Like Freedom Scientific's screen reader is JAWS. Anyway, he made clear that he was only a sales representative and not in upper management. However, he basically said he didn't know. He gave the company line of, "We'll continue to develop and sell both products." However, he also said, keeping in mind that he was speaking personally here and not in any affiliation with HumanWare, that he would like to see them drop Maestro and only support the BN line. He said that if someone wants a speech only note taker, that they could buy one of the classic models of VoiceNotes, which have recently been lowered to about the price of a new Maestro. Again, this was him speaking personally only.

We did get into an interesting talk about the kind of note taker that Maestro is, verses the BN or PM. He said, again, in his words and paraphrasing, who would want to use a note taker with limited note taking ability, such as the Maestro. He said that you can only keep track of phone numbers, addresses, and other small things on there. That the Maestro's interface is such that prolonged text input is troublesome, since you can enter in braille, but you have to enter each dot one at a time and then hit a confirm button. And, that this wasn't meant for taking notes for a long period of time. I mentioned that this is how many mainstream PDA's are though, that they are not meant for prolonged note taking, like the Palm Pilot or other Pocket PC PDA's. I even went so far as to suggest that we as blind people might actually be spoiled, since we have had real note taking devices for many years, dating as far back as the Braille Lite and Braille N' Speak. He didn't really have any comment on this, except to return to his comment that he would rather spend $1300 on a new VoiceNote, than $1300 on a new Maestro, if only for its note taking ability.

Interface. This section may tie in more with the closed operating system, but bare with me. The PM interface allows someone to learn how to use the PM, Windows, and a stripped down version of JAWS. Whereas, the BN interface is very simple, designed specifically for a blind user, in that to create a document, you bring up the Word Processor menu. Its literally that simple. And, for those that may not be familiar with Windows, even though Windows is everywhere and one will have to be familiar with it to get anywhere in this world (in my humble opinion), I can see how a simplified interface might be helpful. However, and this goes back to the operating system, with a simple interface, you limit yourself in what you can do. I brought this up to the representative, with respect to adding other applications. He came back to the support of those applications, and that this is not what HumanWare was about: selling a product that didn't support applications. He went on to comment on the interface and say that certain keystrokes on the Braille oriented (Perkins) PM, were inconsistencies. That the Braille chords used didn't make sense, like L-chord to go to the top of a file. He said that instead of using this, someone could use T-chord, for top of file, etc. I then responded with, "Well, to be fair, on the BN QT (QWERTY or computer style keyboard model), the keystrokes are not consistent either. You press one keystroke to delete one way and another to delete another." He agreed, for what its worth. He said that the QWERTY keystrokes should be written better, but probably won't be since they don't sell a lot of QT units. I then asked him, "So, since you don't sell a lot of QT units, you're not going to rewrite the keystrokes?" His answer, "I didn't say that."

Upgrading. With regards to upgrading a BN that you already have, to a new mPower, the representative said that it would cost $1,995 to upgrade, which involves sending your old BN in, and them switching the display from the old unit to a new mPower, and then returning it to you. He said that the new VoiceNote mPower costs $1,995, so in a sense, people would be buying a VoiceNote mPower with a display. I said that, though I was sure that they would sell a lot of upgrades and mPower's themselves, what about the average user who may not have the $2,000 just laying around for the upgrade. He never really gave a definite answer on this, except to say that given the blind market, there will always be those who can't afford to buy certain kinds of technology. So, as with other things, I suppose that even if you really want it, if you don't have the money, you're stuck. This is a fact of life, but I would have liked to see the upgrade price be a little less, especially for the people who already have a BN. I can understand charging full price fora new unit, which full price is about $6,000, but $1,995 for an upgrade--boy! Looking back on the Freedom Scientific side of things, when they initially came out with their current BX and QX PM units, they offered an upgrade price of about $800 for people that had the first generation PM's, the BNS and TNS units. That seems more reasonable to me than twice that much.

The Battery. Though HumanWare has updated the kind of battery they use in the mPower, over the older BN model, the battery life is still the same: about 20 hours for a BrailleNote and 25 hours for a VoiceNote, on average. They have also, with the new battery, improved the recallibration process for the battery. So, if you have to recallibrate your BN battery, whereas it used to take a weekend, it now takes about 10 hours with the mPower. I'm not sure how long it takes with the PM, since I haven't had to recallibrate my battery yet.

The point about the battery that I found different from the PM is the amount of time you're given to plug it in to charge. The PM gives you 72 hours, from the time that the battery hits 0, to plug in and to charge the battery. Otherwise, you lose all your data in the main memory. The mPower has nothing like this. The representative said that you do have a few minutes, maybe 5 or so, but not hours like the PM. This is unfortunate in my view, since you might have a user that travels a lot and may not be near an outlet when the battery hits 0, which means that they're stuck. The representative said that there has been some talk in HumanWare to allow people to have external battery packs in just these situations. That's better than nothing, but I've heard differing opinions on these external batteries. Some people say that since the battery sticks out, there's a greater chance of bumping it against things and damaging the equipment. Then the unit may have to be sent in for repair. One person told me that she'd rather send in her PM to get an internal battery, than have an external one that might be damaged from contact with things in her environment. This person also told me that after moving the battery in and out many times, that corrosion can build up, and cause problems with the battery's operation, and even that it can bring down the charge the battery provides.

Braille Displays. There is one more major difference between the PM and the BN: the navigation on their Braille displays. Specifically, the fact that there are Whiz Wheels on the PM displays. Freedom Scientific have introduced these wheels, which appear on either side of the display, and allow you to set each wheel to move in one of 4 different increments: lines, sentences, paragraphs or focus panning. What's neat is that you can set each wheel independent of the other. For instance, you can have the left wheel move by lines, and the right wheel by focus panning. The other thing that's great about these Whiz Wheels is that if you set the left wheel to lines, you can change it at any time. For example, if you want to scroll through a file and look for a particular paragraph, you can set the left wheel to paragraphs until you find what you're looking for, and then set it back to lines. I'm sure that the BN's thumb controls are nice, but can you program each thumb control to move by a set increment, e.g., line, sentence, etc? And, can you change these settings on the fly?

In conclusion: the mPower has gained a lot of ground from the classic style of BN. However, it still comes down to a question of interfaces, as the representative admitted. For me, it comes to a question of: Do you want to be in a closed system where you're stuck, or an open system where you can freely try things, that admittedly may not be supported, and see how well they may work? And, if they don't' work, then just remove them and try something else. Plus, there's simply more possibilities with the PM in this regard. For instance, if you know how to script, you can make an application accessible with JFW, or you could even write your own program, which several people have done in the PM community. This cannot be done with the BN, since they have not, and in my opinion will not, released their Software Developer's Kit (SDK).

In my view, there are three things which distinguish the PM from the BN, and are the main reasons why I will not switch anytime soon: the closed operating system, the fact that you cannot add external programs, even if you just want to try them, and the Whiz Wheels. Until HumanWare incorporates something like this into their displays, I don't see them, or anyone else for that matter, catching up to FS anytime soon.

Sunday, July 17

Handheld reading machine that might actually work

In recent years, there have been several attempts by some mainstream and some adaptive companies to develop a hand held reading machine, or at least a hand held scanner, where you can transfer the information from the machine to your computer. Below is a press release about a collaborative effort between the National Federation of the Blind and Ray Kurzweil, to develop such a reading machine for the blind. Thing is, this one really sounds promising and might actually work better than some things I've heard of previously. Besides, it's being made by the two entities I trust the most to work on such things: the NFB and Ray Kurzweil, the creator of the world's first reading machine for the blind back in the 70's. I received this from an NFB email list that I subscribe to, so please excuse any formatting errors. Here it is:

Kurzweil Technologies and National Federation of the Blind premiere the
world's first portable reading machine for the blind, July
11, 2005 Kurzweil Technologies , Inc. ( KTI ) and the National Federation of
the Blind ( NFB ) introduced the world's first portable reading machine for
the blind last week at the NFB's

2005 National Convention in Louisville, KY.

The portable reading machine , which can fit in a user's shirt pocket, can
read print and text materials as users go through their normal daily
routine. It converts print into human

-sounding speech and can read handouts at meetings, signs on a wall, text on
packages, and electronic displays. The hardware consists of a consumer
digital camera with a standard PocketPC, so the hardware cost is expected to
benefit from the rapid improvement of price-performance of consumer
electronic s. The camera and pocket computer are held together by a snap-in

The technology was developed by Ray Kurzweil and his colleagues at KTI in
close collaboration with the NFB, which is organizing a comprehensive
testing program with blind users. Ray Kurzweil was the principal developer
of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, also developed
in close collaboration with the NFB. Ray Kurzweil noted that "The new unit
is 10,000 times smaller than the original 1976 reading machine , yet the
computer it's using is 2,000 times more powerful." This new portable unit is
expected to be available for sale in 2006.

NFB Director of Strategic Projects Jim Gashel demonstrated the reading
machine to an enthusiastic audience of more than 2,000 blind delegates.
"There was cheering for several minutes while the machine read the
document," said Kurzweil, who followed the demo with a talk explaining the
machine , KTI's collaboration with NFB on the project, and the future of
this technology .

The portable reader provides feedback to the user on what it sees, guiding
the user to properly frame reading material. It can report, for example, if
one of the edges of a document is out of view. It is also capable of
stitching together portions of a document from multiple pictures taken by
the camera. It can detect and correct any degree of document rotation and is
insensitive to three degrees of freedom of image tilt or rotation. The
software also includes image-enhancement techniques to compensate for uneven
illumination and the low quality optics of inexpensive consumer cameras.

Future version will include scene-recognition capabilities to locate objects
such as chairs, lamps and people.

Saturday, July 16

A Great Day for the Harry Potter Fan

At some point today, probably this afternoon, will have both electronic Braille and DAISY copies of the new Harry Potter book available for download. This is very notable, since in the past, getting the newest best seller for a blind person has been challenging, since it could take anywhere from several months to an entire year to get the books through the state or regional library for the blind. Now however, we get the books through services like Book Share, only hours after they're released to the public. To everyone that will download the new book from Book Share, I say, "Cheers!"

On the topic of Book Share, there's an interesting article called, Books Ripped Up, Fed to Online Library for the Blind. Though I can understand the reservations that some may have in ripping up books in order to scan them, consider this: by ripping that book and scanning it, and then by submitting it to Book Share, who knows how many blind or other qualifying people with disabilities might read it. In other words, would you rather one Harry Potter be ripped up for many blind people to read, or hundreds or even thousands of books, for the same purpose? Personally, I'd take my chances with the one. After all, when you consider that millions of these books were pre-ordered, and millions more will be sold, is the destruction of one or two books really make that much difference?

Amazon Turns 10

On July 16, 1995, opened their virtual doors for business. Check out the article entitled, Amazon at 10: Ten vital questions for the next decade, and see what might be in the works for this Internet giant. Then, go to Amazon, and buy the new Harry Potter book to commemorate the occasion.

Monday, July 11

Notes on PM Desktop

I'm writing this from the PM QX perspective. The keystrokes for the BX can, and probably are, different. Refer to PM or JAWS documentation for those commands. You need to have both JFW 6.2 and PM version 3.0 installed in order to use PM Desktop.

You can use the PM Desktop program with either a USB or wireless connection. If you want a wireless card, then check out the hardware compatibility list on PacMate Gear. Many have and use the SanDisk CF Connect + 128MB + Wi-Fi card, and others like the Ambicom or other cards. Prices will vary depending on what you want.

1. To start PM Desktop, you must start it from the PC/laptop that you have JFW loaded onto. Go to the Start menu, then JAWS 6.2 (or whatever the program icon is called), then Tools, then PAC Mate Desktop. You can send this to the Desktop for easier access, or if you're running Windows XP, pen it to the Start menu.

2. To start the program from your PM, after its started on the ddesktop: you will first need to open Active Sync on your PM. It might have already have popped up if you're using a USB connection. When it comes up, press Alt, then arrow to and press Enter on Sync. This will start the sync process, if it has not already started. Once this is done, you can press Insert+Shift+F4. Insert is also called the JFW key, and unless you have changed this in the settings, you can also use the Caps Lock key as the JFW key.

This is a toggle command, which means that if you need to check something on your PAC Mate, like amount of battery percentage left on the Today screen, you can turn off the PM Desktop with the Insert+Shift+F4 command, go to the Today screen, and then toggle the program back on again. This is handy if you want to bring up the FS Commander program (free from Freedom Scientific), and turn on your TV or stereo.

3. To stop using the PM Desktop program, go to Active Sync on your PM, hit the Alt key, and arrow to and press Enter on the Stop item. This will stop wireless syncing between the PM and PC, and allow you to remove your wireless card. If you're using a USB connection, then simply remove the cable from your PM or PC. Note that since you stopped the PM Desktop utility, this in effect has unloaded JFW from your PC. You will need to start JAWS again from the shortcut on the Start menu or your Desktop, or however you start JFW. If you don't have icons on your desktop or Start menu for JAWS, you may have to restart your computer.

When not running PM Desktop, you can go to the JFW Basic Settings dialog, found in the Options menu, and hit Enter on the Advanced button. This will take you to a smaller dialog with two check boxes. The first controls where the speech goes, and the second controls the Braille. If these boxes are checked, then the speech/Braille will come through your PM. If they are not checked, then the speech or Braille will come through the desktop. Once you finish checking or unchecking, press Enter on the OK button, then tab to and press Enter on the OK button in the Basic Settings, which closes the dialog.

These check boxes are useful if you want to move around your house or apartment and still be able to hear and feel what your desktop outputs with your PM. I've heard of people who do this, control their desktop and have the speech and Braille come through their PM, while they're sitting on their patio. One reason why you might not want the boxes checked would be if you live in an efficiency, like I currently do, and might want the speech to come through your computer speakers, but want the Braille to come through the PAC Mate.

Have fun!

Setting up wireless sync on the PAC Mate and desktop

Greetings. As the title says, here are the instructions for setting up wireless sync on the PAC Mate (PM) and the Desktop,through Active Sync. Thanks to David E., from the PAC Mate list, for these instructions. You will need to get setup for wireless sync in order to use PAC Mate Desktop with JFW. If you have any questions or have trouble, then contact tech support at Freedom Scientific: (727) 803-8600, between 8:30-7 Eastern, Monday-Friday. Here we go:

Note: You should still be able to synchronize over USB, even after these
steps are followed.

Prerequisite: set up a partnership with your desktop via USB and verify that
step 4 below is true.
Disconnect the USB cable from your PAC Mate.

1. Be sure your network connection for your wireless card is set to "work"
Press the windows key, arrow to Settings and press enter.
ctrl+tab to the Connections tab.
Arrow to the Connections Applet and press enter.
Press ctrl+tab to the Advanced tab.
Tab to the Network Card button and press enter.
Arrow to the name of your wireless network and press enter.
Make sure the Connect to combo box is set to work.
Press enter to save the settings.
Press escape to go back to the Advanced page of the connections applet.

2. Be sure your network settings are set to have any connections that
automatically connect to the internet use your work network. (This way you
can still use Internet Exploder and stuff)
Tab to the Select Networks button and press enter.
Be sure that the "programs that automatically connect to the internet combo
box" is set to "my work network"

4. To use the Windows network protocol (such as file sharing), you cannot
have any special characters in your partnership name. This means that the
default network name of Pocket_PC
will not work because of the underline character in the name.

5. Make sure that in ActiveSync on your desktop you have the Allow network
(Ethernet) and Remote Access Service (RAS) checkbox checked.
Open ActiveSync on your desktop.
Press alt+'f', arrow to Connection Settings and press enter.
Tab to the Allow network (Ethernet) and Remote Access Service (RAS)
checkbox and
use the space bar to check it if it is not already checked.
Tab to the OK button and press enter to save the settings.

6. In ActiveSync on your PAC Mate by default everything is set up except
a. Sync with this PC during manual syn checkbox needs to be checked.
Press the Windows key, arrow to ActiveSync and press enter.
Press the alt key, arrow to Tools and press enter.
Arrow to Options and press enter.
Verify that the name of the computer you want to sync wirelessly with is in
the Use this PC combo box.
Tab to the Sync with this PC during manual sync checkbox and use the space
bar to check it.
Press Enter to close the dialog.

7. To use the wireless ActiveSync connection with PAC Mate Remote, you'll
need to make sure the PAC Mate stays connected even after synchronization is
Tab to the Options button (in ActiveSync on your PAC Mate), and press enter.
Tab past the "Enable PC Sync using this connection" combo box to the radio
button group.
Be sure that "Maintain Connection" is selected.
Note: Don't worry that the "Enable PC Sync using this connection" combo box
is set to USB, that is what it should be.

Now Press enter to save the changes.
Tab focus away from the Options... button and press enter to close the
Options dialog.

8. Press the alt key, arrow to Sync and press enter.

If you hear the disconnect sound and then the connect sound right next to
eachother then you are not set up properly yet.
Sometimes it takes a second for the PC to connect the first time. You
should hear the connect sound on your PAC Mate, then the connect sound on
your desktop within a minute or so.

Additional note:

If you want the connection to be maintained:
1. Open ActiveSync.
2. Press the alt key, arrow to Tools and press enter.
3. Arrow to Options and press enter.
4. Tab to the Options button and press enter.
5. Tab to the Close connection after synchronization is complete radio
button, up arrow to Maintain connection.
6. Press enter to save the changes.
7. Tab off of the options button and press enter to save the changes.

Don't worry about the "USB" in the combo box. It'll still work.

Have fun and happy wireless syncing!

Sunday, July 10

PAC Mate notes

Greetings. First off, I'd like to say that I'm writing this post on my PAC Mate, but yet its on my desktop. Let me explain. Remember when I posted not long ago about version 3.0 for the PAC Mate (PM) came out, and mentioned that one of the main improvements/features in this version was the ability to run a desktop with the PM? Well, this is what I'm doing now! I'm listening to one of my favorite Internet stations, Club 977, through Winamp, and composing this post on Blogger, all while sitting on my bed. I must say, my bed's lots more comfortable than the boring desk chair I usually sit at in front of my computer, :)

If you're interested in setting this same functionality for yourself, then I'd be glad to provide the instructions that I went by. Let me gather the information and I will post it sometime this week, hopefully in the next few days.

The other big note about the PM that I must mention was brought to my attention by my friend and coworker Donna Miller. She says that one need not go out and buy the Sprite Backup software that one can use to backup the PM. You might do this if you were away from your computer and wanted to backup onto a compactflash card. Instead, you need only use Active Sync on the computer. Active Sync will backup and restore ALL (previous word in caps) of the data and settings you have on your PM, including any serial numbers, drivers, or other important information you need to use your PM or other software. Plus, there is a setting in the Backup-Restore dialog in Active Sync on the PC where you can check a check box to have Active Sync perform a backup after each synchronization. I don't know about you, but remembering to do regular computer maintenance is hard enough for me, much less remembering to backup my system. So being able to do this after each sync session sounds pretty good to me.

If you can't afford or justify buying Sprite Backup, now you don't have to. Just use the tools you have available to you. One note of caution though: be careful after an upgrade on the PM, not to restore the backup from Active Sync only to discover that the backup was from the prior PM version. To avoid this, before backing up and after upgrading the PM, be sure you uncheck that check box I mention above. Otherwise, happy backing up and restoring!

Additional note: After upgrading your PM or after a hard reset, when you connect the PM to the PC in Active Sync, you will be asked if you want establish a new partnership. There will be two radio buttons--Guest and Standard Partnership. Choose Guest and then hit the Next button. This will allow you to restore from a prior backup without having to worry about mixing up the partnerships.

In conclusion, this is Wayne, signing off from the PAC Mate, or should I say from my desktop? Either way, it feels good to say that, :)

Saturday, July 9

Google Shares Up Again

My favorite search site, and over all resource for all things information related, Google, has passed a milestone in their company shares. Read more from Bloomberg's article entitled, Google Shares Top $300.

Friday, July 8

Google Visual Verification Update

Greetings. I just read on Darrell Shandro's blog, the Blind Access Journal, in his entry for 7/8/05, that Google is in the process of updating their visual verification process for those that want to sign up with Blogger and GMail. Read more about this potentially important accessibility improvement in an article entitled, Is Google Shutting Out the Blind, from

It appears that Google is going in the right direction, but as with many things, we'll have to wait and see. One point that was brought up in the article by a Google representative, is that the problem might have been fixed quicker if more people had complained about it. They said that Google has moved up the visual verification problem with the blind higher on their priority list, but its worth noting: If you don't complain, or at least make someone aware of something, it's less likely that they will fix or address it in a timely manner. Even so, its great to see Google addressing the problem. Since Google seems to be a big player in Net activities, hopefully other sites will follow in offering alternatives for the blind computer user.

Products for the Blind are Too Expensive

Greetings. Its been a busy week, so I haven't gotten to post this as soon as I might have liked to. Nonetheless, here it is.

This article was originally posted to the Blind Tech Yahoo Groups email list. I attempted to find what source it appeared in before that, but was unable to. Anyway, it mentions many of the common points of why the blind has trouble in buying assistive and mainstream technology, but in my view, does it in a better way. I thought it was a good article when I first read it. Please excuse any formatting errors. Enjoy.

Products for the Blind are Too Expensive
by Bob Branco

When we think of something that frustrates the blind population, we
usually talk about how difficult it is for them to find a job. An issue
that doesn't get talked about much is the huge price that the blind have
to pay in order to live like the sighted. High technology has come a long
way, and most of sighted individuals still manage to afford many of the
modern day products that are currently on the market. However, a lot of
adaptive products for the blind are too expensive, and I don't think it's
because of what goes into these products. I'll give you examples of what I

Let's take the average pocket calculator that sighted people use.
Let's assume that this calculator does triganometric functions,
exponents, scientific notation, etc. You'd think that the mechanism
inside the calculator is worth a lot, because it almost thinks like a human
brain. Yet this item sells for about $10 or less.

On the other hand, let's take a look
at the manual Perkins braille writer. It has no computer chips, no
circuitry, and doesn't perform complex tasks. It's a portable
machine with 7 keys, and you do everything by hand, such as return the
carriage, roll the paper in and out, back-space, etc.

After hearing about the amazing pocket calculator for less than $10, you'd
think that the manual old-fashioned braille writer is worth less? Wrong!!!
It costs about $700.

Let's take this a step further and compare computer items for the
sighted and blind.

A sighted person can buy a hand held multi-task
machine that acts as an address book, a note book, and God knows what
else for a very low price. The blind have a similar item called the
Braille-and-Speak. It does all the same things as the sighted person's
pocket computer, however, it's slightly bigger and includes speech
software. The cost of the Braille-and-Speak is $1,400.

There is a product called the I.D. mate, which scans bar codes and
labels for blind shoppers. It is portable, and quite helpful, but
costs $1,600.

Jaws, which is the actual speech software that many blind people use,
sells for $1,100.

When you take a look at these items and compare them with the small
calculators for the sighted, and if you stop to think about it, is
there really that much of a difference in the sophistication between
products for the blind and for the sighted? I don't think the difference
is so large that a blind person has to spend an additional thousand dollars
more than the sighted to have the same things done for them.

I think the blind are victims of something we learn about in economics,
Supply and Demand. The blind are a limited market, which makes their
products cost more.

However, in the case of the blind, let's forget about basic economics and
realize that 70 percent of the blind are unemployed and probably
trying to make ends meet each month. Yet these same people who are on
fixed incomes are being asked to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars
to adapt themselves to the sighted world. Why is that?

Does the problem lie with the manufacturer? Is it the wholesaler? Can't
they put basic economics aside and realize that you can't sell a one
thousand dollar product to someone who makes $500 a month?

Whoever is responsible needs to understand the
limited income that a majority of the blind population has, because the
system puts them in the position of being without work, forcing them to
receive a government check worth just enough to put food on the table, pay
bills and have a little left over for other essentials.

We need to put the blind back on an even playing field so that they
can afford to adapt their lives better.
Bob Branco

Saturday, July 2

Missing convention? No problem.

If you're not able to attend the National Federation of the Blind convention this year but would love to know what's happening, then check out these blogs and podcasts.

Scott Spaulding has a podcast and blog where he will be recording frequent updates from Louisville, KY. However, if you want the "official word," then check the NFB Convention Blog which will be produced and maintained from the NFB's online publication Voice of the Nation's Blind.

On the Convention Blog, they say that there will even be audio clips from various convention meetings and presentations, as well as reports about the exhibit hall, various meetings, and an over all convention flavor for those that can't make it.

Hopefully, as more NFB members blog, there will be more of a record for those who can't attend convention, for whatever reason. Remember though, while it might be OK to miss this year in Louisville, KY, I must highly suggest that you not miss the upcoming national conventions in Dallas in 2006 and 2008! :)