Tuesday, January 29

The Reader's getting better

Greetings. The Reader I'm referring to here is the new mobile reading solution from K-NFB Reading Technologies. The product is the secodn generation of the original K-NFB Reader released 2 years ago. This time, the reading software is housed in an off the shelf cell phone verses a non-accessible PDA. The cell phone approach is better and makes sense, since people are already carrying cell phones with them. Actually, if you go back in this blog's archives, back in 2005 I think, I posted an article about putting OCR software on a mainstream cell phone, and hinted at the possibilities of getting this to work for the blind. Alas, that reality might just be here.

In case you haven't heard of it, the new K-NFB Reader Mobile was announced yesterday at a demonstration in Washington D.C., at the National Federation of the Blind's Washington Seminar. The software runs on the Nokia N82 phone, which is one of those top of the line phones with lots of bells and whistles. However, they probably needed a top shelf phone in order to run the software. The entire package, with the phone and the software, will cost around $2,000, which in my view still puts it beyond the cost effectiveness for most blind people. The Reader Mobile software itself will cost $1595. Though, the original price for the K-NFB Reader back in 2006 was around $3500, so its gradually coming down. Personally, not meaning any disrespect against the software or what it can do, its a little impractical for me until the price dips down into the $500 or less range. Note that while you can buy the software and phone (the software will officially be released on February 15), the phone does not come with any screen reader, like Talks or Mobile Speak. In addition, the K-NFB Reader Mobile software only assists in the recognizing, storing, and managing of images and text, and it does not act as a screen reader. There is a company, Handy Tech, that is already offering a $2500 package including the N82 phone, the Reader Mobile software, and a Talks or Mobile Speak license. Also note that since the N82 is a top of the line phone, it has a top of the line price of around $570 or so, according to the Blind Bargains website. Here's another area that I'm waiting on, for the price of the phone to come down, or for other phones to be added that will run the Reader Mobile software.

If you'd like to hear an article done by NPR on the new software, then click here to read or listen to the 1/29/08 NPR story. Watch The Ranger Station blog and the Blind Bargains website in the coming days during the ATIA 2008 conference and in March during CSUN for more coverage on this new product. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 22

Stream and the RFB&D

Greetings. I received the following announcement via email from HumanWare regarding the Victor Reader Stream. Though I don't use Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) myself, I know that many others do and that students have been anxiously awaiting this announcement. Please excuse any formatting errors. Enjoy and happy reading.

Attention: Victor Reader Stream Customers in U.S.A:

RFB&D is now selling a user authorization key (UAK) for the Victor Reader Stream at a cost of $20. The UAK must be purchased  directly from RFB&D member
services by calling 1-800-221-4792.  Once your order is processed (usually within 24 hours) you will be shipped a CD with the UAK installation instructions
and a UAK file will be make available for you to download and install from the member services web site. It is not necessary to wait for the CD to arrive
because the instructions for accessing the UAK download site and installing the UAK are also given below in this announcement. If you login to your account
on the indicated UAK site and your key is not yet available it means your order has not yet been processed by RFB&D.  RFB&D advises that their order processing
typically requires about 24 hours.

HumanWare Victor Reader Stream
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic UAK Installation Instructions

Victor Reader Stream requires a UAK (User Authorization Key) from RFB&D to play their AudioPlus® books. These books are password protected and require
special decryption to play on the Stream.

The UAK is unique to the serial number of your device and cannot be transferred to or from any other Daisy Book player.  To obtain the UAK you will need
the following:

• You must know your RFB&D Member ID
• Your Stream software must be version 1.1 or higher.
• You must know your Stream serial number. You can find both the Stream software version and the serial number by pressing INFO (key 0) on the Stream.
The Serial Number format is XX-XXXX-XXXXXX

Steps To Install the UAK Using a Windows PC running 2000 or XP
1. Contact RFB&D member services at 1-800.221.4792 and purchase your UAK. Wait about 24 hours and then go to the RFB&D Digital Playback Software Registration Site at
2. Enter your MEMBER ID # and click "LOGON"  
3. Select HumanWare Stream from the Product List, enter your Stream Serial Number with or without the dashes and select "GENERATE UAK".  RFB&D will validate your device and return the UAK to you. This UAK will be a zip file containing 10 files (3 SMIL, 3 MP3, 3 html, and a KXO)
4. Download and save the zip file to your computer.
5. Connect your Stream to your PC using the long USB cable provided. Be sure the Stream is powered off when you connect it. After connecting it, power it back on and you will hear the message, "player connected". Alternatively, if you have an SD card reader, you may put the SD card of your Stream into the card reader.
6. Wait for Windows to recognize your Stream's SD card. It will appear as a drive letter on your computer.
7. Open this drive letter using Windows Explorer or the My Computer program.
8. Extract (unzip) all the 10 files from the zip file on your computer into the root of this SD card drive. Be sure to save the files in the root not in any of the $VR folders.
9. Close the SD card in Windows by exiting Windows Explorer or My Computer.
10. Use the Safely Remove Hardware option in the Windows System Tray to tell Windows you want to disconnect the Stream or release the drive that contains your SD card.
11. Power off the Stream and disconnect it from the computer or, if you used a card reader, insert the SD card into the Stream.
12. Power on the Stream. It will then prompt you for your 4 digit RFB&D PIN number. Enter the number followed by the pound key. The Stream will announce that the user key has been processed. Your Stream will now be authorized to play RFB&D AudioPlus books.

Once your Stream is authorized, you should then delete the 10 files from the SD card and keep the zip file on your computer as a backup. You only need to authorize the Stream once even if you use multiple SD cards.

Playing AudioPlus CD's from RFB&D:

To play AudioPlus CD books on your Stream you will need to copy all the files on the RFB&D CD to your Stream SD card. To do this create a sub-folder for the book title in the $VRDTB folder of the Sd card and copy all the files on the CD into that sub-folder. Alternatively, you may use the Stream Companion software and select the drive letter of your CD as the source of the book files. Note that if the book is on 2 CD's you need to create a second sub-folder and copy the files of the second CD to it. The Stream will treat a multi-CD book as two separate books.

Wednesday, January 16

NFB 2008 legislative agenda

Greetings. The legislative agenda for the National Federation of the Blind's Washington Seminar, to take place later this month, was released today. Among other things, this agenda includes an item on PRESERVING TALKING BOOKS FOR THE BLIND AND PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED. If you wish, you can view the entire LEGISLATIVE AGENDA OF BLIND AMERICANS: PRIORITIES FOR THE 110TH CONGRESS, SECOND SESSION. Full funding for the NLS program will ensure that the conversion of talking books from regular cassette tape to digital format will not take longer than necessary. If full funding is not obtained, then the conversion might take an additional 3-4 years. If you're going to the Washington Seminar, or if you regularly contact Congress, then remember these agenda items the next time you speak with your Congressman.

Review of Victor Reader Stream

Greetings. In the January 2008 issue of Access World there is a very good review of the Victor Reader Stream called, Full Stream Ahead: A Review of the Victor Reader Stream. If you're sitting on the fence wondering if you should get one of these wonderful devices, then take a read of this review and order one for yourself and experience the magic of the Stream. Enjoy.

Friday, January 4

Happy birthday Louis!

Greetings. On 1/4/1809, Louis Braille was born. If he were alive today, he would be 199. A lot could be said, and perhaps should be said, here about the decline of Braille over the past few decades and the percentage of students that learn Braille now verses 30 or 40 years ago. The fact remains though that among working age blind people, a high percentage of them use Braille on the job. I've heard different numbers here, like 80 to 85% or more. This alone is an indication of the independence, literacy and freedom that Braille can bring to someone. In the mid eighties, a new innovation was gradually introduced that would later transform Braille: the electronic Braille display which produced refreshable Braille. These days, people can carry around electronic note takers and read dozens, even hundreds, of electronic Braille books and files, verses attempting to carry all those volumes of Braille. There's still no greater feeling though then to run your fingers over a new, crisp page of Braille. I wonder what Louis would say if we could go back in time and show him how far his code of dots would reach. So, in celebration and recognition of his birth, read a page, chapter, or a whole book in Braille today. Have cookies with M&M's on them in dot patterns. However you do it, go and use Braille. (And, for you math majors out there, next year will be his 200th birthday. There will likely be lots of talking and celebrating of Braille then as well).

Incidentally, if you want to learn about the history and impact of Braille, then check out a publication from the National Federation of the Blind called The World Under My Fingers. This book is primarily written for parents or educators of children and presents why Braille needs to be taught. However, I think it does a great job of making the case for Braille and showing how it can be used in everyday life.

Thursday, January 3

PAC Mate documentation

Greetings. While browsing the Freedom Scientific site today, I came across their documentation page. Typically, I don't spend too much time on documentation pages, unless I really need help or if a product/upgrade is coming out that I want to read about. I found the documentation for the PM Omni. The Omni docs aren't that much different from the prior PM version 4, but there are some differences which you will want to be aware of. If you're anxiously awaiting your Omni from FS or want to do some reading, or want to read about any of the other PM related software/hardware (Braille display, Street Talk, deaf blind solutions, etc), then check the following pages out. Enjoy and happy reading.

FS PM related documentation page:

What's New in Omni:

QX HTML user guide:

QX user guide in self-extracting zip file:

BX HTML user guide:

BX user guide in self-extracting zip file:

Wednesday, January 2

BrailleNote deaf blind solutions

Greetings. I received the following announcement from an email list regarding a product for the BrailleNote. After reading this, it sounds to me like HumanWare (HW) is trying to play catch up again with the PAC Mate's deaf blind solutions that were released a few years ago. However, I'm glad that HW is giving more options to their customers. I've heard of a number of deaf blind people that use the BrailleNote that have probably been waiting for just such an announcement. Enjoy and pardon any formatting errors.

DeafBlind Communicator to Tap the Power and Simplicity of KeySoft

 The DeafBlind Communicator (DBC) is being designed to provide a simple
to handle TTY communications and to be a portable way to deal with
face-to-face communications.

A simple conversation approach is provided through an intuitive Chat
which is automatically entered when the DBC is first turned on. When in
conversation, whether it's Face to Face or TTY, the way you communicate

Our goal is to produce a DeafBlind Communicator that is simple and
forward which any Braille user can learn to use with minimal training.

Hidden Applications Activated
 We realize that some deafblind people will want to do more or grow into
doing more than basic communications, so we have built the DBC on a much
more powerful platform that offers additional capabilities. A secondary
for the DBC is to ensure that any user can choose to activate other,
powerful applications (initially hidden from the user), which provide
to the kinds of capabilities and functions available in mainstream
technology (note the list below).

Main Menu
Word processor
Address list
Media center
Book reader
Scientific calculator
Database manager
File manager
Terminal for screen reader
Remote synthesizer
Keyboard learn

KeySoft, the environment (user-interface) that is used in the DBC, is
same one used in the BrailleNote and has reached its celebrated
through over twenty years of constant improvement. Once a user chooses
activate the full-blown features of the DBC, the Chat Menu noted above
becomes one of the applications listed in the Main Menu. From that menu,
simple press of the character "C" instantly takes you to the KeyChat
and from there everything "looks" exactly the same as the basic DBC.

We plan to start accepting orders in April and shipping in June 2008.

The basic DBC will have many similarities to the TeleBraille in both
and function. Although the KeySoft user interface will "feel" somewhat
different from that of the TeleBraille, it is still very easy to use. Of
course, if the user chooses to activate the more powerful features, the
will be a fully functional BrailleNote that includes TeleBraille-type

The BNPK will not support the DBC. Unfortunately, the PK does not have a
landline connection on it to enable TTY communications. Also, the
BrailleNote mPower, on which the DBC is based, has significantly more
and power to handle the added functions of the DBC.

The DBC will not include the screen reader Mobile Speak Pocket (MSP).
All of
the functions relating to the cell phone (DB Companion) will be
from the DB BrailleNote. As noted above, if the user chooses to activate
full functionality of the BrailleNote applications, the DB BrailleNote
becomes a fully functional PDA on its own that does not require the
complexity of a screen reader or any other additional software.

Reading habits of the blind verses the sighted

Greetings. I received the following article from an email list. I find the information here fascinating, since sighted people have much more ready access to books and other printed material, such as in bookstores, news stands, grocery stores, etc. Yet with all this access the blind still read several times more material than the sighted, according to the below article. I know that my reading has dramatically increased over the past few months since I've been reading digital books from NLS. I barely read books on tape in the past year or so, but I've read nearly 30 books digitally since September. Enjoy.

PR Newswire, New York
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reading Habits of Blind and Physically Handicapped Defy National

Book Consumption Rates Seven Times Higher for National Library
Service Patrons
Than Average Sighted Readers

    WASHINGTON /PRNewswire/ -- This summer, when Americans catch up
their favorite reading, they will also be enjoying a beloved
American pastime
that research shows is waning. According to a study by the National
for the Arts, Americans of every age are consistently reading less.
The study
revealed an overall decline of 10 percent in literary reading
between 1982 and
2002, totaling an overall loss of 20 million readers. Conversely,
in the Talking Book program, a free library service provided by the
Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS),
Library of
Congress, read more than the general population by a significant
amount. The
average NLS patron, an individual with a visual or physical
impairment, reads
seven times more than most sighted readers, or approximately 35
books a year.

    These numbers not only highlight the braille and audiobook
appetites of
NLS patrons, but also speak to the ease in obtaining ample reading
through the Talking Book program. "NLS patrons are extremely avid
says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "NLS is dedicated to
fulfilling their
reading needs with the highest-quality collection so they can
remain engaged
in literature and connected to the world around them."

    While NLS patrons have higher book consumption rates, their
tastes do not differ from those of sighted readers, according to
Jim Herndon,
head of the NLS Collection Development Section. NLS librarians
strive to build
a well-rounded collection that meets readers' diverse informational
recreational needs. "Selecting titles for the collection is a
process. NLS librarians consult book reviews and bestseller lists,
publishing trends, and assess patron requests before choosing
titles," says
Herndon. "Titles are selected based on such criteria as literary
merit and

    With more than 400,000 titles, the Talking Book catalog is
Among its unabridged offerings are bestsellers, classics,
romances, mysteries, and westerns. Patrons particularly favor top
sellers like
Nicholas Sparks's True Believer, Danielle Steele's Impossible, and
Gladwell's Blink.

    NLS libraries offer something for every bookworm, from kids to
Summer reading programs and book clubs nationwide are designed to
engage and
reward readers. "Superheroes-Powered by Books," a program hosted by
network library, rewards blind and physically handicapped children
who use
their reading powers to fight summer boredom. Kids can report on
the audio or
braille books they have read in return for a range of
superhero-themed prizes
-- from masks to action figures. Additional reader appreciation
include the 102 Talking Book Club, which honors centenarians for
lifelong devotion to reading.

    The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically
(NLS), Library of Congress, administers the Talking Book program, a
library service available to eligible individuals of any age living
in the
U.S. or American citizens living abroad whose low vision,
blindness, or
physical handicap makes reading a standard printed page difficult.
Through its
national network of regional libraries, NLS mails books and
magazines on
cassette and in braille, as well as audio equipment, directly to
enrollees at
no cost. Further information on eligibility requirements and
enrollment procedures for the program is available at
or 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).

Tuesday, January 1

Reflections and resolutions

Greetings. I guess that this update should have come yesterday since this is about the year in review. However, since yesterday didn’t feel like “New Year’s Eve” to me, its coming today. Besides, I can still look back on New Year’s Day as long as I throw in some observations, hopes, and dreams for this year. So here we go. Below are some highlights of 2007 in no particular order.

First, the recognition that I’ve gained from friends, colleagues, and students at my job. The two different but equally humbling awards I received, back in May from the students at graduation, and in October regarding the White Cane Day celebration. Not even counting the frequent mentions that I receive at graduation ceremonies by students, whether it be a simple, “Thanks Wayne,” to an elaborate thanks, which have included musings on my favorite food group (chocolate), to how I helped a student achieve the “… blazing fast speed of 22 words per minute in keyboarding.” All are welcome and much appreciated. I’ve also received some recognition publicly at staff meetings and privately from various staff members. In short, after going seemingly unnoticed, from my point of view, in my first year, is nice to be acknowledged for my service to others.

Next, though it ultimately came out of a bad circumstance which I may or may not go into on this blog, I’ve gotten back involved with horseback riding. I now go riding on pretty much a weekly basis, unless I can’t find a driver or have other personal reasons for skipping, such as being away for the Holidays. Horseback riding is the one thing that I’ve really gotten true relaxation from and have felt good about over the years. And, one of the few things that I think that I am really “good at,” aside from computers and perhaps other things I can’t think of right off hand.

The Victor Reader Stream. Okay, it may seem strange for someone to list a tech gadget in their year end wrap up, but then again, consider the blog you’re reading, :) Seriously though, I’ve not had this nifty device for very long, about 3 months and counting, but already I’ve read way more NLS talking books on it in that time than I have in the past few years on cassette. The digital revolution is truly here for the blind with this device, and its going to be cool watching what happens both with the Stream and the NLS digital program over the next 12 months.

System Access to Go. Here’s another “geek” item. However, it is a cool one. In short, this program is a web-based screen reader. To bring it up you can go to the Run dialog, a random website, or you could go to a shortcut on your desktop. The cool thing though is that once you shut it down, since its web-based, there’s no trace of the program on the computer. This means that a blind person can have computer access on their own computer, at a library, on someone else’s computer, at a coffee shop or Net cafĂ©, or any number of other places. I’ve found this especially handy when visiting my parent’s in Dallas. They know about JAWS and know what it means for me and can do for me. However, since JAWS costs money, lots of money, they aren’t able to have it on their computers. I’m sure they would if they could, but as we all know in the AT world, not everyone can afford some of this nifty technology. That’s okay though because I’ve got a license for System Access to Go. That has been one of the coolest innovations of this year in the assistive tech industry, a web-based screen reader that can be used on any computer, whether it is “accessible” or not. This last week when I was in Dallas for Christmas, at least once a day, I’d get on their computers with System Access to Go and surf the web, check accounts, or look up other information. I simply needed them to get me on a website or in the start menu, and I was off and running. Now I don’t have to wait for them to get JAWS, hoping the price will come down. I can use their computers just as easily with S.A. to Go, and better yet, leave no trace of the software on their systems!

Another cool thing that has taken place is the change in philosophy that occurred at work back in June. At the risk of boring you with a big explanation, let me say that the training center has shifted from a departmental based approach to a team oriented one. The up shot of that is that I can get to know people that I didn’t know before, such as Steve. Steve’s in Career Guidance, but before the change back in June, that’s all I knew about him. Around August, I began combining and learning how technology and career guidance can merge. In the process, I began to get to know this guy in career guidance. Over the past 4 months, Steve and I have connected and bonded pretty well, to the point that I’ve asked him for a ride to work once (we had some interesting stuff happening at that time which prompted the question), and we’ve for whatever reason started sitting together at graduations and staff meetings. Neither of us are exactly sure how the “sitting together” aspect started, or continues for that matter, :) Seriously though, anyone who knows me well knows that I like bonding and connecting with people. And, if I can do that on the job, and still maintain an outward employment focus and learn about another area of the Center that I didn’t know about before, then all the better. Unfortunately, as of a few weeks ago, Steve will be moving onto another team in the Center. Currently though, there’s no one, or very few people, that can get me to laugh so quickly and so hard, like Steve. He and I seem to be on a similar humor wave length, of obvious humor and life stuff, and is one of the ways that we’ve connected so well. Anyway, Steve’s just one example of the bonding that’s happened at work. I’ve gotten opportunities to bond with other staff members and students as well. In one instance, I wasn’t aware of the bonding or impression that I made on a student until his girlfriend later told me that, in short, I helped him realize that a blind person really could use a computer and use the web.

There are probably other things that I’ve missed, but these are the ones that come to mind right away for 2007 highlights. And now, my 2008 resolutions and hopes.

My resolutions are always composed of the same things. This way, they are open for lots of interpretation and there’s little chance of not achieving them. They are, to increase my independence in some way, and to continue growing in my job. As for hopes, which could be labeled as resolutions, but aren’t for the fact that if they aren’t achieved, then there’s no loss, :) My 2008 hopes include: to continue bonding with staff and students; continue to figure out how to motivate students; and continue in my search for a spouse. I’ve gotten back into the dating scene, via online dating, and have had some pretty good success with it so far. Though the two people that I’ve met have ultimately moved away to other cities, I still count those in the success category. Online dating is not for everyone, and to be sure, if you’re considering getting into it, you should definitely take precautions. I’ve met both the people I referred to above and have talked with them not only online, but through email, via phone, and in person. The site that I use is eHarmony for several reasons. Mainly because it was started by a Christian psychologist, and that the site has several layers that you have to go through to get signed up, meet someone, and ultimately communicate with them. These processes make me feel better about the site, rather than one where you put a picture up and say something like, “Date me!” The layers also help weed out those who may not be as committed and may not want to go through the layers to get to the goal—a match. Anyway, its my hope and prayer, and the prayers of others, that I find a spouse. For me, and for now, that looks to be through online dating, but that could change. Though I hope that I’m one of those people who can say on their wedding day, “Wow, we met through eHarmony.”

It should be an exciting and cool year ahead. Here’s hoping that you and yours have a Happy New Year as well, and that your resolutions and hopes/dreams come true. If not, remember, there’s always next year. Here’s hoping also that we see some nifty advancements in technology, both in adaptive and mainstream tech. Happy New Year everyone, and go Cowboys!