1999 Conference Proceedings

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Introducing New Talking Software from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Larry Skutchan
John Hedges

APH introduces exciting new high-tech products from our new Technological Solutions team, a part of the Department of Educational and Technical Research. Our goal is to utilize the latest technologies to advance information access for blind and visually impaired students and adults. Our latest software enhances training opportunities for the Microsoft Windows environment.

Listening To Windows 95

To begin, let us give you some background on our first product, which is now shipping, "Listening To Windows 95." This Windows tutorial was developed in partnership with Tecso, Inc. of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. APH is the U.S. distributor and manufacturer. This interactive tutorial was designed specifically to train blind computer users the basics of Windows and focuses on the special needs of blind users. Windows concepts, keyboard commands, and effective methods of navigation are a few special areas covered. The tutorial uses professional narrators to present the information in a clear human voice, so even the newest user will have no difficulty understanding the material.

This product has been thoroughly tested and evaluated with blind and visually impaired students in the middle and high schools at sites around the country, as well as with adults in the U.S. and Canada.

Unlike other products for Windows training, such as audio tapes and screen reader tutorials, "Listening To Windows 95" allows for interactive exploration of the Windows environment as it guides you through a series of topics with companion lessons, practice exercises, and quizzes. The focus here is to learn Windows basics, while not relying on any specific adaptive equipment. Listening To Windows 95 works with screen readers, braille displays, and screen enlargement software, although its target audience is primarily the auditory learner. The software operates on Windows 95 or Windows 98. The tutorial focuses on the classic desktop configuration of Windows, so Windows 98 users and those users updating their desktop to the active desktop with Internet Explorer 4.0 will need to make some configuration changes which are explained in the manual that comes with "Listening to Windows 95."

Lets look at the CD-ROM based tutorial now. It requires a Windows sound card and speakers running on a fast 486 or Pentium computer. As you operate "Listening To Windows 95", the CD-ROM is required in the CD-ROM drive. This saves your hard drive space, since the audio content is about 600MB! As the program automatically starts, you log in with your last name and proceed to where you last left off or to the main menu. Lets review the menu now. (Here we will discuss and demonstrate the software briefly and take questions.)

Learn Keys

Let us now move on to our next software product, Learn Keys. This program runs on Windows 95 or later and allows inexperienced keyboard users, or low vision and data entry workers to receive verbal confirmation of keyboarding activity. It works on any keyboard layout, even on notebook systems. The software relies on professionally narrated keyboard key descriptions to announce each key as you press it. It is fast and responsive. Several options are available for speed, pronunciation, and voice.

Let us demonstrate the program as we discuss each of these features. In full screen mode, "Learn Keys" is "active", displaying the text of the keys that are being pressed in Ariel font. Three different font sizes are provided for low vision reading of the screen. These are normal 12 point, large 18 point, and extra large 36 point font sizes available from the menu. The menu, activated by pressing Alt + Space, speaks in the current voice. Voices are available from Kerry - female and Lou - male (demonstrate voice options). A normal and fast speed can be selected, where the speech is 50% faster (demonstrate speed options).

For the speech user, alternate pronunciations for keystrokes may be familiar, but for new computer users and students just starting out, learning key names and their symbolic uses can be tricky. Learn Keys provides alternate pronunciation of several keys in menu selectable schemes (demonstrate modes). These schemes or modes include normal, terse, math, and full. These are useful for the allowing key name learning from full pronunciation; math symbols in math pronunciation, and short names in terse pronunciation. The variety allows the user to hear what keys apply in what situation, whether in a word processor or doing data entry in a spreadsheet.

Learn Keys operates in the background while other applications are running. You can switch to another application and follow your keystrokes. This allows data entry to be varified as well as blind users to operate the keyboard without a screen reader. As the basis for keyboard exploration, Learn Keys provides that friendly voice for your keyboard. This is the perfect program to accompany a keyboarding course for those new to the computer keyboard.

Other new products

Additional software titles are currently under development from APH. These products will utilize the Microsoft Speech API technologies and the Active Accessibility technologies. APH plans to distribute and support the Microsoft Text-To-Speech engine "Whisper" (TTS). This technology will be included through the APH Speech Environment (ASE) that will allow a user to select the software synthesis voice they want, including third party TTS engines that support SAPI 4.0. (demonstrate ASE with a beta version application.)

Reader's Digest, Electronic Braille Edition.

The last item to review today is the new Reader's Digest, Electronic Braille Edition. The recent amendments to the Copyright laws give special publishers the option to offer blind users books and periodicals in a unique electronic format. A braille format document file format fits the law's requirements for that "unique" blind format. It is readable with special equipment and software blind persons already have, while ,at the same time, being unreadable codes for sighted readers.

With the cooperation of Reader's Digest, APH is now offering disk based subscriptions to the monthly magazine from our braille files. This allows the subscriber to back translate and read the magazine electronically at the same time as the general public. Unlike the braille or cassette versions, an electronic file can be searched and read randomly. Any braille reverse translator can be used to read the electronic edition of Reader's Digest, including the one in the Braille 'n Speak.

To use a notetaker such as the Braille 'n Speak (demonstrate file transfer and use), you will need to transfer the files into the device. To assist in this transfer, we provide a freeware program set called Send and Rcv. These were developed by Rob Meredith at APH to meet the need to move data files to and from notetaking and similar devices. The transfer process is simple and the disk or computer retains a permanent copy of the files. This allows you to selectively read the magazine as you wish with your portable device.

Reader's Digest, Electronic Braille Edition, is available on an annual subscription basis for US $25.00.

Thank you for your interest in our new products.

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