Wednesday, July 26

Graduation Thoughts

Greetings. On this eve of graduation for ten or so of the students from the training center I work at, I have some deep thoughts on graduation and what it means.

First off, of the graduations I've attended so far at the training center, I've thoroughly enjoyed myself. It's easy to conclude and accept that the act of graduating from the center is not a big deal, especially if you get in a pattern of teaching the same students for several weeks or months. However, in my humble opinion, once an instructor passes the line of indifference, they lose sight of what graduating from a rehabilitation center really means. For the student, it means saying to the world, "Hey, I did it! I achieved my goals and now I can go back to my normal life and live as a blind person." For the teacher, it gives you a since of pride, to see someone who came into your classroom not knowing how to turn a computer on, and to leave being able to surf the web, write a report with tables in Word, and the other skills that we teach. Sure, some students might not achieve as much as others. When I sit and watch students gratuate though, it reminds me of my duties as a teacher, and of how it felt to graduate from a center; to complete that portion of my life. I've been on both sides of this particular fence and can better appreciate them.

I have a special feeling towards this group graduating, since in this case, graduation not only signals their completion, but it also means I'm moving from observing and co-teaching instructor, to a full instructor. Though I haven't been told this yet, I fully expect to get a "real" class next week when the new cycle of 6 week long tech classes start.

Back in February and March, when I was in immersion, I was a "student" along side several of the students graduating tomorrow. I went to the train station with some of them, to the Irish pub, went through the keyboarding lessons and materials, and other things. After my immersion, I sat in classes with them, observing the way the instructor handled different situations, and practicing my own teaching skills and "instructing" on them. They were partly responsible for helping me get broken into teaching at the Center. Even though my methods won't be perfected an honed into some sort of shape for another cycle or two of classes, it was some of these same students that were tought by me to use tables on the web, use mail merge in Word, and other things. Due to these various experiences, I've felt like I've bonded on a certain level with these students. Perhaps in a different way from a normal student to teacher relationship.

So, congratulations and cheers to those graduating tomorrow, for completing your time in training, and to me for completing my training and moving into a full instructor role!

Tuesday, July 25

Let's Try Again

Well, I guess it didn't work. So, you can go to the KXAN home page, and look for the news story with the similar name as the video listed below. If its not on the home page, then look in their video archives. I regret to say that I haven't been around the KXAN site a lot, so I cannot really direct you where to look when the link is taken off the home page. Nothing a little computer savvy searching can't turn up, :)

Listening to that video reminds me of my drop off route, in Denver, Colorado, on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere. This student from the story this morning had it easy compared to me, grin. Let me tell you, you really don't know where the middle of nowhere is, until you really are out in the middle of nowhere, :) Enjoy.

Video on Future Graduate

Greetings. The story Hundreds of people training to be blind, was first broadcast on a local morning news program on an Austin TV station this morning. Since this is a video, its recommended for people with a fast Net connection. It's good to see positive stories about blind people on the news, instead of the other kind.

Saturday, July 22

Article on a New Free Screen Reader

Greetings. I received the following article from an email list. I'm not sure how good this proposed screen reader is or will be. Especially considering the competition with JAWS, Window Eyes, and Hal, among others. However, it very well might contribute to the over all screen reader market, which can be a good thing. I'm not sure I'll give up JAWS right off, but its good to know that there's an option out there for those that may not be able to afford a program like JAWS. It will be interesting to see how this new screen reader develops, like if it gets more complex and can do more things. Enjoy.

Peterborough Today (UK)
Friday, July 21, 2006

ACCESSIBILITY: Hi-tech aid for blind on a roll
By Sarah Gunthardt

A CITY company has successfully launched the world's first
computer software - Thunder - which is likely to be a
storming success for
and partially sighted people worldwide.
Thunder was launched by, run by blind city
couple Margaret
and Roger Wilson-Hinds, from their home in Orton Wistow,
The pair, who have been running Choice Technology, which
specialises in
products for blind and partially-sighted people since 1992,
were runners-up
Peterborough Enterprise Centre's first-ever competition to
find the region's
Best Business Idea for 2006.
They are delighted to have achieved their ambition to launch
the software,
which will help bring computers and the internet alive for
the blind and
The Thunder screenreader turns a normal PC into a talking
computer by
reading out loud what's on screen.
It will enable them to listen to internet sites, shop
on-line, hear their
e-mails and, with the software reading out to them as they
type, they will
able to create letters and other documents with ease. is a not-for-profit community interest
company, which
developed the software in partnership with Manchester-based
Sensory Software
The software was launched at the Sight Village Exhibition in
Birmingham this
Mr Wilson-Hinds said: "At, our mission is
to deliver free
talking software worldwide so that blind people everywhere
can benefit from
the computer, the web, and e-mails.
"We see the talking computer as the modern Braille -
providing a gateway to
learning, work opportunities and a measure of financial
freedom and
Thunder is set to create a real storm as talking computer
software is
currently available, but at a price, with the cheapest
system, Windows Eyes
about £380, and the most widely used system, JAWS, costing
Thunder is entirely free to individuals, with multi-user
packages available
to organisations for an annual subscription, which also
includes training.
Thunder has already received the backing of a number of
including the National Blind Children's Society, the Royal
Blind Society and
Zealand Association for the Blind. Chief executive of the
Royal Blind
Society Graham Booth said: "This is a simple, easy-to-use
product that's
going to
bring huge benefits to blind people and greatly enhance
their quality of
"We wish every success with this exciting
and important
All that is needed to use the Thunder screenreader is a
computer running
Windows 2000, Windows XP or Vista, plus speakers or
headphones. For more
and to download Thunder for free, visit

Article by Business Editor Sarah Gunthardt.

Friday, July 21


Greetings. I got a call this morning from the person known as Ranger 1138, who has a blog called The Ranger Station, informing me that I was mentioned in the weekly email of Top Tech Tidbits (TTT). Apparently, it was said that I was at the NFB convention in Dallas (which I was), gave a presentation on the upcoming Microsoft Vista operating system, and commented on various vendors in the exhibit hall, which I did not do. Ranger states it on his blog, and I want to repeat here for those that might have seen this reference in the email of the TTT, that Ranger 1138 and Wayne Merritt are most definitely two different people. We lead different lives, though we kind of work in the same industry of sorts, of assistive technology; he does things that I probably couldn't do and vice versa, or at least I'd like to think so, :)

Sure, I talk about technology, adaptive and otherwise, on this blog, but it also has a personal spin and journal aspect to it. Those that have read this blog for any length of time, or if you simply look through the post titles, you'll see that there's a lot here that isn't part of the tech world.

All that said, its kind of cool to be mentioned in a popular and well read outlet like the Top Tech Tidbits weekly email. Ranger said he'd link to my blog here, so who knows. I might get more readers here, which would be cool. I know Ranger personally, and in his words, "No harm, no fowel."

Wednesday, July 19

The Barbershop

Greetings. Today I had an experience unlike any other. I went to a barbershop.

I should say right off that my hair grows very slowly. Whereas many people get their hair cut every 3-6 weeks, I get mine cut every 2 and a half to 3 months. Up until now, I've gone to one of those chain hair styling places, like Super Cuts or Pro-Cuts. Since moving to Austin though, I've been looking for a new place to get my hair cut. The couple that usually take me to and from church each week, suggested their place this past Sunday. When they said it was an old fashion barbershop, I agreed but didn't really know what I was getting into.

When I went for the cut, which was at a flat rate of $12, I got great treatment as well as a great cut. The place had the feel of an old timey barbershop, I suppose because it was. There were a few barber chairs, a TV going, and the room had an over all different feel to it than Super Cuts. My $12 also got me an offer for a shoe shine, which I'm not sure if the man who offerred the shine worked there, or just hung out and offerred it to customers. Oddly enough, I probably could use a shine on my older pair of dress shoes that I've had for 3 years. However, today I was wearing a newer pair. Perhaps when I go next time, I'll purposely wear my older pair and cross my fingers for that shoe shine offer. The flat rate also got me a manual shave, some thinning of my hair, and a great cut and personal attention. It made me wish the cut cost more so I could show my appreciation. As if all that weren't enough, my ride had called ahead and asked the barber if they would wait for me before they closed shop, since I was going after work. We got there before they closed, but the cut wasn't actually over and done with for another 5 or 10 minutes after closing. I'm inclined to think that this would not have happened at a franchise like Super Cuts.

They've definitely got me as a returning customer, flat rates, great cuts, and personal treatment and all. In other words, though this was my first barbershop cut, it won't be my last! I don't know if all barbershop cuts are like this one, but if they are, then I'd definitely recommend someone look around for a barbershop. It might be the best cut you've ever had.

Saturday, July 15

Transportation and Accessible Signs

Greetings. The following email was sent by Tommy Craig to some NFB of Texas email lists. Please consider taking the necessary actions. I have. Enjoy.

accessible signage

Hi all,

        The transportation board is awarding nearly two million to a transportation system in order to study the effectiveness of talking signs. Transit
systems must apply for the funds within the next couple of weeks. If you are interested in getting your transit system to apply you can go to the following

        When you go to this page you will find more details about the funding and a link to send a letter. If you follow this link you will be asked to
fill out a very short form. Upon doing so a letter to your local transit system asking them to apply for funds will be generated. This is a time sensative
issue so don't put it off.

Thursday, July 13

2006 NFB Convention Summary

Greetings. Well, now that I'm somewhat rested after my whirlwind of activity over the last few weeks, going directly from work to the NFB convention last week in Dallas, staying a weekend with my parents, and then back to Austin and work, I'm ready to offer up a summary of events during convention. I won't say that I'll write more later, since I've said that before, and only a few times have actually done it, :) Hopefully this weekend will find some more posts on the convention though, because it was a great one. By the way, for those hoping for some convention coverage, my apologies. I thought I was going to do some, but then I decided I'd just take some notes and fill in the gaps later. With that, here are but a few highlights or memorable things:

The hotel. As many may know, we stayed at the Hilton Anatole, used to be the Wyndham Anatole. It was definitely nice--and large. It was said that from heel to toe, the distance between the two ends of the hotel measured a quarter mile. That's a lot of walking. Because of this distance, and the wide open feeling of walking across the various portions, with little if any reference points, there were more than a few times when I ended up staying on one side of the property, just because it took too long to navigate back to the other side. Walking was one thing, but navigating was something totally different.

There were two things I quickly learned from that experience though. First, canes, and people, can appear at any time, even if you think you're in the middle of nowhere. For instance, you can be walking along, minding your own business, and suddenly find a cane between your legs and someone running into you, even if you had not heard them approach. The other thing I learned was that even if you're standing against a wall, you will be hit by someone.

The Kurzweil-NFB Reader. This will probably be given a larger area, or even its own post, since it was really neat seeing all the things that surrounded this new device.

Dancing at the night club. This might be given its own area too. Then again, as the saying goes, "what happens in Dallas, stays in Dallas."

Texas registration. Texas registered 400 people at convention. In the annual convention attendance competition, Texas beat out Maryland. This has happened before I believe, but never by such a large margin. I think by the end of the week, Maryland had around 225 registered. That's quite a jump from that to 400. Total convention registration was 2,885, and that's not counting anyone who decided not to register.

Opening general session. The first general session is always very fun and exciting, since its the start of the general session part of the convention, or when everyone gathers in a ballroom and hears from various people on topics of interest to the organized blind. This year was particularly notable and fun. Look for more on that later as well.

Changes in the National Board. After nearly 30 years, both Diane McGeorge and Joyce Scanlyn stepped down from their respective positions on the national board of the NFB. They both got standing ovations, as they should. Diane's move was especially note worthy for me, since it was the Colorado Center for the Blind that I attended for 7 months back in 1999, that Diane started in 1988. It was at the 1998 national convention in Dallas, where I made contact with Diane and she returned a series of calls from me, and invited me up to Denver to visit the CCB. In other words, Diane had a big role in helping me get more from my rehabilitation, practice some much needed skills and confidence, and, not the least of which, kept me going to the NFB conventions. I might have gone to the CCB if I had not met her, but the chances of that happening would have certainly been a lot less if we had not met. I have a running line that I say to her whenever we talk, occasionally at these conventions, partly kidding but always serious: "Thanks for calling me back."

Nana's bar and restaurant. Nana's is a 5-star restaurant at the top of the Anatole, on the 27th floor. Adjacent to the restaurant is a bar with comfortable chairs, a nightly jazz band, and is probably the best kept secret of that hotel. I only went there once, but in talking with a coworker, we both agreed that not many people were there when we went.

Taking pictures. Since I've got the Nokia 6682 cell phone, I've also got a great camera. There were a couple of times when I wanted to take some pictures, once at the Nana's bar and the other when at the Sensory Safari. If I can figure out how to do so, perhaps I'll put them up on my website. For those that don't know, the Sensory Safari is an exhibit put together by Safari Club International, of stuffed and mounted animals that they've collected. I try to go to this every other year to see what they have for that year. This year, they had a lot of animals I've never heard of before, such as a golden takin from China. Another thing they had was the head of a black rhino. That was quite interesting as well. There were also the usual animals, such as an elephant's foot and tusk, a chicken, some bears, and others. The Safari Club always does a good job at the Sensory Safari, in their selection of animals, and in getting plenty of their own volunteers to walk around with you and tell you what the animals were. Or, in my case this year, to help you take some great pictures.

I'm sure there are other highlights, or lowlights, but I'll save them for next time. Until later.

Tuesday, July 11

New iPod Might Open Up Opportunities

Greetings. The new iPod model might just open up some new and exciting opportunities for consumer electronics. The following is taken from an email from the Gui-Talk list, from the NFB Net group of lists. What's most interesting about the article is that in no place does it mention the benefits for the blind or low vision population that has struggled to use, and in many cases wanted to use, the iPod. The fact that it doesn't mention us means that the sighted designers of this new model probably weren't thinking of us. That could be good or bad, but I'm hoping its good. Since if they're not thinking of the blind, and they're making a mainstream device audio accessible to sighted users, we very well might benefit too. Consider Tell Me (800-555-8355). That's a totally audio service that was made for the general public but that the blind can benefit from and use just as well. Hopefully, this trend will spread to other products. I'm not saying we shouldn't be apart of the design of products. Rather, if the sighted can design a device that is accessible to us as well as the sighted user, then why not jump on board?

At any rate, here's the article. As always, my apologies for any formatting errors. Enjoy.

This article is taken from

Scotland on Sunday
Sun 9 Jul 2006
Alive and clicking: the latest iPod will talk...

Alive and clicking: the latest iPod will talk the listener through
the songs and
bands on the menu.

Apple pips its rivals with the iPod that talks

FROM Walkman to Talkman. Not content with changing the world's
music-listening habits,
Apple has come up with another innovation: the talking iPod.

A new generation of machines will use sophisticated software to
convert the names
of bands, albums and individual tracks into recognisable speech.

The new iPod will tell you what it is about to play, removing the
need for users
to look at the screen while selecting music, and making the device
safer and easier
to use while driving, cycling or in badly-lit locations.

Crucially, the talking machines could give the iPod a badly-needed
new competitive
edge in the hotly-contested digital music player market.

The iconic machines were last week reported to have lost some of
their sheen, with
consumers following a series of technical problems and controversy
surrounding the
working conditions of those who make them. To make matters worse,
software giant
Microsoft is said to be working on its own iPod-bashing digital music player.

Apple has flatly refused to comment on the design, but a patent
lodged by the company
in the United States makes clear the sixth generation of iPods will
be able to convert
those famous text menus into speech.

The ingenious system will rely on home PC processing power and clever
software. The
computer being used to download tracks will analyse each album title,
song name and
artist and convert them into sound files. These will be loaded into
the iPod, along
with the song files.

Users of the music players will still operate the Clickwheel as
normal, but hear
the names of songs and bands through their headphones.

The patent reveals the idea is driven largely by safety considerations.
It states: "A user will have difficulty navigating the interface in
'eyes-busy' situations.
"Such activities include, for example, driving an automobile,
exercising and crossing
the street."

The patent also makes clear that text-to-speech technology is likely
to spread to
other hand-held electronic devices such as mobile phones and palm-top

The move is expected to spark a new digital player war as competing
attempt to cram more and more features into their digital music
players in a bid
to keep up.

iPods have recently begun losing favour with consumers, amid claims
of poor working
conditions at a Chinese factory where the devices are made.

Microsoft is reported to be planning a digital music player with
wireless internet
capabilities, removing the need for a PC to download music.

The firm is believed to be keen to break Apple's stranglehold on the
download market
with its iTunes software.

The iPod and iTunes enjoy market share of about 80% in the US and the
UK, as well
as more than half the online music market in Europe as a whole.

Sony is also believed to be working on a wireless product that can
download music
and video broadcasts in venues such as concert halls and even shops.
The firm filed
a patent in 2004 which states that compressed files could be sent to
with footage from the concert they had just seen.

Converting text into speech has been a major goal of the computer
industry for decades,
but early versions of the technology struggled with difficult words and names.
It also requires formidable computer processing power to carry out
the difficult

But Apple says its system will break down words in a new way that
makes it possible
to pronounce perfectly even the most obscure song titles and artist names.
It also proposes using "voice talent" - such as famous actors - to
make the speech
more human and add in the celebrity factor.

The patent also proposes using different voice "characteristics",
such as gender,
for different sections of the iPod menus.

Professor Steve Renals, a speech technology expert at Edinburgh
University, said:
"It is possible to create very high quality text-to-voices these days.
"We have seen some already used in mobile phones, but it has
struggled in the past
with difficult words and names. The technology is much better now and
can cope with
most things."

Safety experts have raised concerns over cyclists, pedestrians and
motorists being
involved in accidents when they are distracted by their digital music devices.

Last month, a teenager from Preston was killed while listening to his
iPod on his
bike when he collided with a tractor. Another teenager, Kathryn
Thomas, caused a
fatal road accident last year when she took her eyes off the road to
show a friend
how to use her iPod. Roger Vincent, spokesman for the Royal Society
for the Prevention
of Accidents, said: "If people don't need to take their eyes off the
road and hands
off the wheel then there are clear benefits to that.

"Provided there is a sensible approach and the technology is used in
a way that it
is intended, it could make using such devices far safer.

"There are concerns, though, about the isolation from surroundings
that wearing earphones
creates, and this can cause serious accidents, particularly among cyclists."