Pace - IT Adaptive Tech Reviews
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Toggle Software

I heard a podcast from EASI that raved about the functionality of ToggleMOUSE for limited mobility uses. It is full of features that increase productivity all in one utility for $19.95. A couple features I liked were screen wrap where you can move the pointer off the screen at one side of the screen and come out at the other side. That helps keep the pointer from getting lost on the side of the screen. There is also a feature to make the click wheel do a left-double click with one push. There is a free evaluation version on the site. They other utilities too that might be worth checking on.
Feature List
AutoMouse: Record and playback mouse and keyboard actions.
Button Functions: Assign handy functions to unused buttons and keystrokes.
EconoClick: Saves a lot of needless clicks and mouse movements.
QuickPoint: Automatically finds the default button, saves mouse movement.
QuickScroll: Enhanced scrolling options for total control.
ScreenWrap: Lets the point wrap around the edges of the screen.
PopDesk: A popup menu gives quick access to desktop items.
Cursors: Hundreds of cursors to choose from!
Keyboard Mouse: Point and click even if no mouse is attached.
Clear Type: Hides the mouse pointer while you type.
ActiMouse: Brings apps to the front when you move the mouse over them.
Blinking: Makes it easy to find the mouse pointer after it is inactive for while.
Center Cursor: Moves the mouse pointer to the center of the screen at the touch of a key.
Presto Saver: Launch your screen saver instantly.
Dynamics: Control over mouse speed and other dynamics.
Wheel Support: Enhanced mouse wheel features.

Monday, March 27, 2006
  Engineering Answers to Accessibility

Trace Research and Development Center
This site from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, College of Engineering has an excellent overview of design issues affecting accessibility. This looks well worth studying.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
  Preloaded Accessible USB MP3 Player
Key To Access
This is an impressive package of software that is portable so you can use it at any computer.
It includes the following tools:
Scan and Read Pro
Universal Reader Plus
E-Text Reader
Ultimate Talking Dictionary
Talking Word Processor
PDF Magic
Text to Audio
Talking CalculatorI look forward to the chance to test this out.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
  Interesting Voice Recorder from IBM

Magic Book: Record digitally, search effortlessly
There aren't many details on this, even a price but it looks and sounds very interesting. It uses voice-recognition technology to locate recorded files and supposedly will locate files based on the chosen speaker's voice.
  Review: Rockbox Talking iPod
Rockbox - Open Source Jukebox Firmware

The prospect of getting talking menus, directories and filenames for some iPods and other MP3 players is an attractive one. This is something very useful to people with vision impairments or if they just want to be able to change selections while driving. Rockbox is an open source project to replace the firmware of various MP3 players with a customizable interface and the computer voice option is one of them.

I was using an iPod Color for this testing and installing the firmware is not a plug and play process. There is no installation wizard and many commands need to be entered through a command line interface. The directions were clear enough for most techies but quite a few of the possible problems were not mentioned. I had to go to the forums to get some hints on how to solve some of the problems I ran into. Once the firmware and software was in place I still didn't have any files. The previous data on the iPod wasn't easily accessible. The user of Rockbox has to set up a directory structure on the iPod using root levels like Music, Audiobooks, or Podcasts and then sublevels like Artist, and then album.

To get these directories and filenames spoken isn't that hard through the use of a utility they provide that creates a small computer voice generated file that says the name needed. If one isn't present then the computer voice can spell the file name or say the number of the music track.

Using Rockbox means the iPod can't be loaded with iTunes and files would need to be loaded in other ways. Songs purchased through iTunes and other AAC files can't be played with RockBox.
To make a long story short, I don't recommend this, at least for iPODs for several reasons:
  1. The software crashes quite a bit while trying to navigate menus. It isn't that difficult to reboot but it is hard to tell when you aren't going to get it to work since some things work but it gets to the point it just refuses to play files but lets you navigat menus.
  2. Battery life is seriously diminished. I'm much more impressed now with how well the stock iPod works since it has power management functions that aren't recreated in Rockbox.
  3. Playback is jumpy sometimes when the player screen is doing too many functions like the equalizer.
  4. The voice function didn't work well enough to be useful. The names were read clearly but there is a pause of about half a second or more before the name is read and the speaking rate is slow. So, it can take quite awhile to get through a menu or list of song names.
  5. The player has to be set up as an external drive so it has to be ejected each time you want to disconnect it from the USB cable. The iPod I'm using has 60GB so using that filespace is nice for moving other files occasionally, like a really fat USB Thumb Drive, but needing to eject the unit every time is a hassle.
In conclusion, it takes a fairly tech savvy person to get this running and keep it running and the benefits don't merit its use. The FAQ files admit a number of problems that they intend to work on. There is also a page describing the voice functions. You can click on this page they call the Blind FAQ. There are probably some other ways to make MP3 players more accessible. I'll be looking for some of those.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
  Webcast on Job Hunting and Career Building
Working Into the Future
The Independent Living Research Utilization group hosts a number of disabilities related webcasts and this one is about job hunting and career building. There is a list of resources, a transcript, and a captioned audio webcast featuring speakers and questions from the listeners. They cover expanding your college experience with internships, networking, and developing work skills.
Friday, March 10, 2006
  Spoken Menus for MP3 Players, including iPod
Some iPods and other MP3 players can be made to speak! Spoken menus and directory names make them more accessible to people with vision impairments. This is an open source project so it isn't an easy project but there are lots of people working on this popular product to make it more useable. Rockbox also allows the iPod to be used as an external memory device so you could use it like a USB thumb drive. I'll be trying this soon and will add an update.
  iPod and iTunes for vision impaired people.
This site lists lots of workarounds and fixes to make iTunes and the iPod more accessible for vision impaired users. iTunes is pretty inaccessible to screen readers and some users have made JAWS scripts and other adaptations.
  DualCor Handtop- PC & PDA in one.
DualCor Handtop cPC Revisited
This review of the DualCor has a good overview but an even better video link at the end of the article. It seems the best thing about this unit is its ability to be your tablet PC and PDA together and easily go back and forth. It is expandable with a regular monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse into a full desktop PC. It can also go many more hours as a PDA and use little battery power. Lists for $1500.
  E-Book, eText, PDF, ASCII or Word?
Accessibility in Education: The Next Textbook?
Accessible Content Magazine

An overview of the textbook conversions needed to meet the needs of disabled college students.
  Eye-Controlled Computer Software
.:: EyeTwig Computer Vision Solutions ::.
This software tracks eye movements to move the cursor and the pro version can also use speech control in conjuction for more control. Very interesting. There is a free trial version. It requires a webcam.
  Tips, Hacks and Products for those with diminished hand function
Disabled Hands: Tips for Disabled Cellphone Users
There are also other issues mentioned in this magazine but this article is a good starting point.
  Want to use a joystick for mouse control?
Joystick-To-Mouse Frequently Asked Questions
This is one alternative for a pointing device.
  Wired News: Gadgets No Help for the Blind
Gadgets No Help
As things get smaller, they naturally get harder to see. Here's Wired magazine's take on the issue.
  Devices help the blind cross tech divide | CNET
Devices help cross tech divide | CNET
CNET has a different opinion than Wired and sees some products that can help vision impaired people.
  alphaWorks : Caption Editing System
alphaWorks : Caption Editing System : Overview
IBM has opened up quite a lot of accessibility resources on their alphaWorks site.
  Accessible MP3 Player Reviewed
Blind Access Journal: Accessible MP3 Player
This is a review on a MP3 player but you may want to browse other areas of this journal. They also raise the issue of user authentication schemes that bar vision impaired website users.
  Barcode Reader Speaks for You
University of Virginia News Story
Hand-held Device brings speech and learning skilled to impaired and disabled people.
Using barcode reader technology, this device will read selected words and phrases and then speak for the person. It's big advantage is portability.
  Free eBook on Website Accessibility
Dive Into Accessibility
Free E-Book on making your website more accessible in thirty days.
Downloadable as PDF or HTML.
  CES 2006 Presents New Keyboard Prototype
CES 2006 Presents New Keyboard Prototype
Less keys, more usability. 53 keys instead of 101, smaller footprint, color-coded keys, room for your mouse. Looks great!
  Accessibility for Firefox browser
Accessibility Extensions for Mozilla/Firefox: Announcements

As a Firefox user, I'll need to try out this extension.
  'Mental typewriter' controlled by thought alone
'Mental typewriter' controlled by thought alone

This research shows that electrical activity in the brain can be used to control a cursor and is trainable in twenty minutes. This uses a cap that is attached directly to the scalp right now but they said the next stage is making one that doesn't.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
  Review: Mobile audiobooks and eBooks

Our local public pibrary has signed up for a service called Netlibrary where patrons can download audiobooks and eBooks to their home computers.

I'll address the audiobooks first. There are over a thousand audiobooks available and they can be downloaded to a home computer and then to a player that handles WMA files and uses Windows Media Player. This means they won't load to an iPod but I did load them to a Dell Axim handheld. There are two download qualities, CD quality at 32k bps and Radio quality at 4k bps.

The CD quality recording of an unabridged novel can be very large. David McCullough's popular work, 1776, is 161MB in CD quality, 11 hours and 30 minutes long. In so-called Radio quality it is 1/8th the size at 22MB. I say 'so-called Radio quality' because even with good headphones it is very unpleasant to listen to on the Dell handheld and 161MB is an awful lot to download to such a device and wouldn't leave much RAM available. The Dell doesn't have adequate battery life for such a use either. A better choice for listening to audiobooks would be a Creative USB thumbdrive audio player, like the MuVO TX FM player that has been recommended by others for adaptive uses. It would be easy to load new books, they're lightweight, and have a longer battery life.

The eBooks at Netlibrary can only be accessed online which is unfortunate. It would be nice if they used another format to allow portability on a handheld or eBook reader. They do have a large number of titles available, 22,000 +, and if you have a WiFi hotspot you could still access the books. The books are viewed Adobe Acrobat Reader and the software allows searching and notes can be added and saved for later use.

I found some titles that looked very interesting about disabilities issues and may very well relate to the PACE-IT project. Here's some that I found:

The Labor Market Experience of Workers With Disabilities : The ADA and Beyond

Choosing Assistive Devices : A Guide for Users and Professionals

The Decline in Employment of People With Disabilities : A Policy Puzzle

Adaptive Technologies for Learning & Work Environments

Measuring Functional Capacity and Work Requirements : Summary of a Workshop

Career Success for People With Physical Disabilities

Mastering Diversity : Managing for Success Under ADA & Other Anti-discrimination Laws

Disability Management : A Complete System to Reduce Costs, Increase Productivity, Meet Employee Needs, and Ensure Legal Compliance

Library materials can indeed be accessible but there are limits because of copyright compliance needs and the choice of providers for these materials. If you haven't checked with your local library in awhile you might be surprised what they have to offer. If they don't have these materials you might want to ask when they are getting them.

PACE IT--Preparing Avenues for Competitive Employment in Information Technology (& Related Fields)

Technology evaluations for PACE-IT
What are the best products on the market to help you maximize your education and work experience? This blog will identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of various hardware and software items and combinations. If you have experience with some products mentioned, or questions, then please comment.

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