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
Email: eghtesce@pb.com 

Mark Uslan, M.A., M.S.
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7638
Email: muslan@afb.net 

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 operational information.

In this paper, results of field-testing and operation of the UACS at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) will be discussed.

Introduction

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 dialect.

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.

Field Testing

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.

Voice Training

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 Center.

Conclusion

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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