1999 Conference Proceedings

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MAKING THE UNIVERSAL ACCESS COPIER ACCESSIBLE TO BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED USERS

Kh. Eghtesadi, Ph.D.
Universal Access Copier Project Leader
Pitney Bowes, Inc.
35 Waterview Dr.
Shelton, CT 06484
Phone: (203) 924-3568
Email: eghtesce@pb.com 

Mark Uslan, M.A., M.S.
Manager, Technical Evaluation Services
American Foundation for the Blind
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7638
Email: muslan@afb.net

Crista Earl, B.A.
Resource Specialist
American Foundation for the Blind
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7605
Email: cearl@afb.net

This presentation will describe the collaboration between Pitney Bowes and The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in a two- phase field-test of the Pitney Bowes Universal Access Copier System (UACS).

The Universal Access Copier System Pitney Bowes, Inc., a leader in office technology, has developed a Universal Access Copier System. Designed to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities, the copier system incorporates advanced speech recognition technology with voice output, an extra large touch screen interface, braille labeling on the control panel and keyboard and is lower than conventional office copiers. The copier is designed to accommodate users with visual or ambulatory disabilities as well as non-disabled users. The Universal Access Copier represents Pitney Bowes first use of assistive technology in an office product.

Controlling the copier is accomplished by interfacing to a communication port on the copier that is used to simulate the pressing of keys on the copier control panel. A software program on the PC can be used to duplicate the actions of the copier control panel. Adding a voice and touch interface to this program permit several keys to be issued with a single phrase or touch.

Adding wireless audio allows hands-free operation of the copier. An audio voice feedback provides confirmation that commands are properly executed. Error messages are also converted to speech and broadcast from a speaker.

To achieve the above functionality a combination of hardware and software is required to communicate between a PC and the copier. A Pentium based PC with Window 95 operating system was used. The user interface was developed in Visual Basic environment and graphically represents controls found on the copier control panel on each screen.

A speech recognition digital signal processor board was used and installed in the PC to process and recognize the voice input and output. The vocabulary and voice recognition grammar was developed in a voice recognition software package. Another controller board was also utilized in the PC for touch screen interface. A 17" Touch Screen Monitor was used for this application.

A graphical user interface displayed on a large screen monitor was developed to provide an alternative control panel. Selection can be made by touching the oversized buttons with either a fingertip, mouse or pointing stick. Displaying the controls and vocabulary on the monitor prompts operators using speech input. Braille labeling provides paper-loading instructions and identifies paper drawers, control panel features and PC keyboard.

Field Testing

In the first phase of the field-test the UACS was beta-tested by product evaluation staff who concentrated on making voice training accessible to blind and visually impaired users. In the second phase of the field-test both blind and visually impaired and sighted staff will be trained to use the UACS. After using it, they will be de-briefed about their experiences.

This paper will discuss phase one. The presentation will cover both phases. Training a voice recognition system to recognize a person's voice requires that the person pronounce words and phrases into a microphone, saying what appears on the screen within a limited response period. For a blind person, training also requires the use of a screen reader and headphones to eliminate the possibility of the microphone picking-up screen reader output. The person being trained also needs to be familiar with a few keyboard commands to be able to back-up and repeat a word or phrase and to respond to error messages.

Since voice recognition training on the UACS requires a 63 word vocabulary and only a few keyboard commands, the first attempt at providing speech access was made using a simple screen reader. The product chosen was ZoomText Xtra (Level 2), a screen magnification program that offers a built-in screen reader to supplement magnification. An advantage of using ZoomText Xtra is its magnification capability for persons with low vision. ZoomText Xtra's magnification was fully compatible with the user interface but it's screen reader was not able to read what appeared on the screen without the use of a series of keystroke commands applied in a very short time-window.

Two criteria were used in determining which of the full-function screen readers on the market to test. First, the screen reader must have the capability of designating a part of the screen as active. It is necessary to turn-off automatic reading of information on the location of the mouse, title bars, and default buttons. Second, when setting-up active windows, it is helpful to use a screen reader that is flexible and easy to use. Window-Eyes was chosen and was configured to read the prompted command vocabulary and feedback messages including a low-voice-volume message and a message to "re- say" a word or phrase.

Summary

The UACS offers speech recognition control of copier functions, a very useful means of controlling the copier for blind and visually impaired persons. To achieve speech recognition control requires that the blind user train the UACS to recognize his or her voice. After experimentation it was found that the screen reader, Windows- Eyes could be configured to access UACS voice training, enabling blind and visually impaired persons to use the copier as intended.


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