I had not planned on writing a BC article today as I spent most of yesterday running around from appointment to appointment and didn’t even turn my new Vista computer on. I had planned to jump into the Vista voice recognition system with Window-Eyes, JAWS and System Access but, alas, I ran out of time before getting to it.
Then, I found a press release announcing that AT&T (formerly Cingular) would start selling the Code Factory line of products to its enormous customer base. I’ve pasted the release in below. The one slightly confusing part of the press release is that it refers to Mobile Speak but not to Mobile Speak Pocket or Smartphone. As the press release talks about Windows Mobile based phones, I’ll assume that AT&T will be selling the entire line of CF products but is calling all three of the screen readers Mobile Speak without the descriptive third word for the WM based devices.
BC readers know that I am a huge fan of access technology that adapts mainstream products rather than building blind guy ghettos. Mobile Speak Pocket and Smartphone users have had access to Windows Mobile 6 for months now and, unlike any of the small market/high price blindness oriented products, had Windows Mobile 5 for a long time while the AT hardware companies chose to skip it entirely.
I really love the economics of the Mobile Speak line of products. For the price AT companies charge for an upgrade, one can get a very nice smart phone, blue tooth keyboard and a copy of Mobile Speak Smartphone. For considerably less than the AT hardware companies charge for their devices with a Braille line included, a user can get the items I mentioned plus an Easy Link 20 from Optilec which provides a Braille keyboard and 20 cell display.
As the primary “computer” in the scenario I describe above is, in fact, a smart phone, consumers of this solution can upgrade to a unit with a faster processor or more features or whatever Windows Mobile devices include in the future for a relatively small sum if they extend their mobile phone contracts. I’m fairly certain that AT&T probably has a smart phone available for about $100 with a new or extension of a service contract.
I also very much like the ergonomics of the Mobile Speak solutions. Instead of slinging a heavy BrailleNote, PAC Mate or BrailleSense over one’s shoulder, users can carry a three or four ounce item in any pocket. Users can also elect to take their Braille display and/or keyboard and/or other peripheral (of which there are many) along or leave them at home based upon how they plan on using their smart phone on any given outing – flexibility hardly provided in any of the blind guy ghetto products.
Lastly, in addition to leveraging economies of scale available to consumers of mainstream devices, blind people who choose a Mobile Speak based solution will also benefit from the rapid rate of innovation available in consumer products. My T-Mobile Dash came with WM 5 but I was able to upgrade it to WM 6 by running a program I downloaded from the T-Mobile web site. The Dash came complete with Blue Tooth and Wi Fi built in (items that I think only come standard on an MPower) and a simple visit to any of the mobile device shareware sites shows how many free or low cost third party programs will run on it, a feature that, if I remember correctly, is only available on the PAC Mate.
So, in my not at all humble opinion, I strongly recommend that people with vision impairments try out any of the three versions of Mobile Speak on a phone or PDA before plunking down a pile of cash on one of the blindness specific devices out there today.
Also, in today’s Afterward, I wrote a bit about the really excellent review Brian Hartgen did of three screen readers in Microsoft Office 2007 which is at the bottom of this story.
AT&T Expands Wireless Offerings for Customers with Disabilities
AT&T Launching New Services to Support Customers With Special Needs
SAN ANTONIO, July 17 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — AT&T Inc. (NYSE: ATT) has
announced plans to launch new wireless software products this year to increase usability for customers who are blind or visually impaired. AT&T will partner with Code Factory to offer two new products: Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier, both for Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 operating system devices.
AT&T consults with leaders from the disability community to develop product and service offerings designed to meet the needs of customers with vision loss. “By working closely with organizations that are committed to serving seniors or people with disabilities, AT&T is able to better understand the unique needs of its customers,” said Carlton Hill, vice president of Product Management for AT&T’s wireless unit. “These new software options will help make it easier for all individuals to enjoy a
digital lifestyle wherever they go.”
“Code Factory’s mission is to make it possible for visually impaired consumers to use the most advanced mobile technology,” said Eduard Sanches, CEO of Code Factory. “AT&T has a long track record of enabling communications for all of its customers, and we are very pleased to partner with them to make even more mobile devices accessible to the visually impaired.”
Mobile Speak is a powerful, full-fledged screen reader with an easy-to-learn command structure, intuitive speech feedback in several languages and Braille support that can be used with or without speech.
Unlike other screen readers for mobile phones, Mobile Speak automatically
detects information that the blind user should know, just as a sighted user would easily find highlighted items or key areas of the screen at a glance. Supported applications and functions include:
— Speed dial, call lists and contacts
— Text messaging
— Calendar, tasks, notes and calculator
— Internet browser
— Word, Excel and PowerPoint
— Voice Recorder, Media Player, voice speed dial and voice command
— Phone/device settings, profiles, alarms and ringtones
Mobile Magnifier is a flexible, full-screen magnification application
that supports low- and high-resolution screens and can be used with or without speech feedback. Magnification software is compatible with a wide range of mobile devices.
Unique features include:
— Magnification levels from 1.25x to 16x
— Font-smoothing for easier readability
— Three different layouts: a full-screen, split and distributed view
— Different color schemes, including inverted color
— Automatic panning and cursor-tracking
— Automatic zoom function that detects areas of interest on the screen
“We have found that individuals who have vision loss want to be able to
choose from a range of wireless handsets,” said Paul Schroeder, vice president of Programs and Policy, American Foundation for the Blind. “Just like people who can see, customers with disabilities want options. We applaud AT&T for its leadership in investing the effort to understand and address the needs of individuals with vision loss.”
Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier for Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 operating system devices will be available from AT&T in the fall of 2007. For more information about wireless product or service offerings for those with disabilities, visit: http://www.wireless.att.com/about/disability-resources.jsp.
I spent some time listening to Brian Hartgen’s review of the performance of three leading screen readers (JAWS, Window-Eyes and System Access) and how they behave in Office 2007. You can find the article in the T&T audio magazine Infotech to which a subscription costs 30 British Pounds (approximately $60) per year. Brian starts the review by reminding us that six years ago there was a panel discussion broadcast live on Main Menu where users represented three different screen readers (JAWS, Window-Eyes and HAL) and talked about how well they performed in the Office Applications. In those six years, the entire screen readers have been upgraded multiple times as has the Office suite so it is definitely a good time for a new and objective comparison.
Six years ago, Brian Hartgen represented Window-Eyes on the panel and now, T&T Consultancy, sells excellent JAWS extensions jSay, for using JAWS with Dragon Naturally Speaking, jDay which provides support for the Outlook 2007 calendar (something I feel that FS should have done internally) and jVist for the speech recognition features of Vista with JAWS. Thus, some of Brian’s income is derived from selling enhancements to JAWS and, therefore, I suspected he might have a bias toward the most popular screen reader.
Much to Brian’s credit, he performed a very fair and highly objective review of the three screen readers, Window-Eyes, JAWS and System Access. Six years ago, although Brian represented Window-Eyes on the panel, he said something like, “I like Window-Eyes but I couldn’t do my job without JAWS.” I remember how happy that single statement made us feel around the FS building. We knew JAWS was the best solution for Office and even the Window-Eyes representative on the panel said so!
This time, though, the comparison led to very different conclusions. The review of the three screen readers in Office 2007 concluded with the statement that, to get the most out of Office, a blind person should probably “own two or more screen readers.” Apparently JAWS has slipped from its dominating position in Office and some of the JAWS bugs Brian demonstrated are truly unacceptable in a released product.
Thus, I will take some notes as I start using Office 2007 on Vista that I’ll put into a BC post in the future but, because Brian did such an incredibly thorough survey of the screen readers with Office 2007, I will not try to reinvent his wheel and instead of writing my own review, I’ll suggest that you read his instead.