2000 Conference Proceedings
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Application of the Universal Access Copier System for Blind
and Visually Impaired Persons
Kh. Eghtesadi, Ph.D.
Pitney Bowes, Inc.
35 Waterview Dr.
Shelton, CT 06484
Phone: (203) 924-3568
Mark Uslan, M.A., M.S.
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7638
A Universal Access Copier System (UACS) was developed to
accommodate users with visual and/or ambulatory disabilities as
well as non-disabled users. To provide easy access, the copier
can be controlled in a variety of ways. Voice activation,
touchscreen, keyboard and keypad interfaces allow users to choose
how they prefer to operate the system. The UACS is the first
office copier that incorporates advanced speech recognition
technology. Using voice activation, operators can adjust settings
such as the number of copies, sorting, stapling, reductions or
enlargement, and exposure strength. Voice output provides
feedback to confirm the settings, any error messages, and
In this paper, results of field-testing and operation of the
UACS at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) will be
Creating a truly universal design that addressed the needs of as
many users as possible was the design approach for the UACS.
Selecting the appropriate technology and designing the required
modifications to the copier was next. A significant technical
hurdle was incorporating features that addressed the needs of a
variety of disabled users.
The UACS integrates a personal computer and a 17" touchscreen
monitor with certain Pitney Bowes copier models through a serial
port connection. The large touchscreen monitor mimics the layout
of the copier operating panel, and offers physically challenged
users a familiar interface that is both large and easy to
control. For visually impaired users, who cannot utilize the
touchscreen monitor, the product offers PC keyboard with voice
output, and voice activation.
A graphical user interface displayed on the touchscreen monitor
was developed to provide an alternative control panel. The user
interface was developed in Visual Basic environment and
graphically represents controls found on the copier control panel
on each screen. The entire copier control panel was divided into
six screens which each represents a major copier function.
Speaker dependent speech recognition software is used to process
voice commands. As soon as the UACS processes a voice command, it
provides confirmation in two ways: it repeats the command and it
reconfigures the touch screen. The UACS has been designed to
offer full copier functionality with a 63-word vocabulary. Since
the speech recognition software is speaker dependent, it is
language independent, so it responds to any language, or
Two types of microphones can be utilized as the voice input
device. A directional wired microphone is attached to the monitor
for short-range operation (2 to 4-ft ranges). A radio frequency
wireless microphone with a 300-ft range can also be utilized for
people that need more mobility and flexibility.
In preparation for using voice commands, two software procedures
must be completed; both of which are one-time activities.
Enrollment is the process of entering information to add a name
to the roster of the UACS users. Voice training involves
repeating commands into the PC’s microphone. It takes about
15 minutes. Each user has its own voice file that occupies about
2.2 MB of memory. For a computer with a 6.4 GB of hard drive,
more than 2,500 users can save their voice files.
When a voice file is active, the user’s name is shown on
the top right corner of the screen. If a voice file is not
active, the user can simply touch the top right corner of the
screen, or use the computer keyboard to access the user list,
then says his or her name. It takes about three seconds for a
user’s voice file to be activated. Using voice activation,
an operator can make copies by simply stating a few voice
commands such as "Two copies, Sort and Staple, One Sided to Two
Sided, Zoom 150 percent, Print now".
The speech recognition software not only recognizes and carries
out verbalized commands, but also interacts with the user. The
copier repeats every command for confirmation purposes, notifies
the user of problems, impossible commands, copier malfunctions
and describes errors. Error messages such as paper jams are
spoken and displayed in large text accompanied by a diagram.
In the spring of 1998, the American Foundation for the Blind
(AFB) received a pre-production model of the UACS from Pitney
Bowes to beta test. In the fall, the unit was upgraded to a
production model, ready for field-testing. The unit was placed in
AFB's Information Center, a work setting in which a photocopy
machine was used extensively by five staff members (one with
total blindness and one with low vision), as well as by visitors,
some of whom were blind or had low vision.
In a one-month field-test the UACS replaced the Information
Center's photocopy machine. In addition, 17 AFB staff (6 blind, 9
sighted, 2 with low vision) were interviewed about the need for
photocopying and 16 (5 blind, 9 sighted, 2 with low vision) were
voice trained on the UACS and were results were noted.
The jobs held by the nine sighted persons fell into the
following categories: executive staff, managerial staff, clerical
support staff, professional staff, and college student intern.
All used a photocopier extensively on the job. The jobs held by
the six blind staff included clerical support staff, managerial
staff, and professional staff. Regardless of how much
photocopying they did, all were enthusiastic about the
possibility the UACS offered because at present, they often had
to rely on sighted assistance for photocopying. About half did
not use a photocopier at all because of the difficulties
associated with accessing a standard photocopier. They stated
that they thought they would use a photocopier to some extent, if
it was accessible. The other half used a photocopier infrequently
but felt that an accessible photocopier would greatly increase
frequency of use.
Of the two persons with low vision, one was professional staff.
Both used a photocopy machine but not extensively. The
professional staff person had considerable vision and could use a
standard photocopy interface. Reporting to her was a clerical
support person who was sighted. She was able to delegate most of
her photocopying to that person. Accessible photocopying was not
that important to her. The clerical support person with low
vision had less vision than the professional staff person and
struggled with a standard photocopier interface. She was very
interested in better access to photocopying both because it would
make her job easier, and because she used the photocopier to
enlarge and enhance documents.
After 16 staff underwent voice training, each person tested the
UACS to make sure it was responding to their verbal commands. For
2 of the 9 sighted persons and one of two people with low vision,
the UACS did not respond to a few verbal commands and re-training
on just those Words were necessary. Among the 5 blind persons
more retraining was needed for 3 of them. Additionally, the
number of words that the UACS did not respond to for each of the
3 people was extensive enough to warrant repeating the entire
voice training process. It was clear that for some blind users
listening for words through headphones and then repeating those
words is a demanding task. For two blind persons voice training
using the headphones was easily accomplished on the first try but
for the other three it required patience and the willingness to
repeat the process.
UACS in Operation
The reaction of the five staff members in the Information Center
was positive. The three sighted users thought that the touch
screen was a significant enhancement. One of the three thought
that the use of voice commands was also a significant
enhancement. The other two were less comfortable with voice
activation because they found that they had to repeat commands.
This problem decreased in frequency over time, and the touch
screen responded properly all the time.
Some users were sensitive to the fact that using voice commands
might be disruptive to others in the Information Center. However,
the more they used the UACS the more they realized that it is not
necessary to speak loudly for commands to be effective. In fact,
the UACS responds to commands given in a moderate volume.
The user with low vision in the Information Center believed that
the use of voice commands and the touch screen were both
significant. Because her vision varied frequently, she found
herself relying on voice activation more often than on the touch
screen. Since the UACS was much easier to access than the unit it
replaced, she did more copying. She reported using the UACS as a
low vision aid, enlarging documents that were too small for her
to read and enhancing low contrast documents using the variable
exposure setting. Even though these features are available in
many copiers, the UACS makes it easier for users with low vision
to take advantage of them independently.
The blind user in the Information Center thought the use of the
voice activation was a significant enhancement. As an
administrator, she had a need to use the copier independently for
situations that required confidentiality. For example, during the
field test, she was working on a budget, which she was able to
make copies independently.
The blind user also found that the question of which side the
print is on was handled by using the two-sided copy feature.
Although she would have preferred to have had direct feedback on
the side that needed to be copied, copying both sides of a
document provided a workable solution. As a computer user who is
accustomed to listening to the fast rate of a computer screen
reader, she thought the rate of speech used to confirm commands
on the UACS was too slow.
The keyboard was not used in the field test, but it could have
served as a back-up for the blind user. In addition, the keyboard
could be used by blind people who had not trained the UACS to
recognize their voices, such as visitors to the Information
Results of this field test suggests that the UACS is a major
improvement in access to photocopying for users for are sighted,
blind, or have low vision. The UACS should be considered a high
priority in any office setting in which photocopying is done
extensively, people who are blind or have low vision need
frequent access to a photocopying machine, and the budget for
office equipment is sufficient to cover major equipment costs.
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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.