2002 Conference Proceedings

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A Personal Data Assistant For The Blind

Larry L. Lewis, Jr.
HumanWare Inc.
lewis@humanware.com

Over the past half century modern civilization has experienced many technological shifts due to a "technological revolution" which has progressed into the 21st century. In the past 2 decades the world has seen computers reduced from stationary impractical monstrosities to practical, portable solutions which have been integrated into every facet of society. These smaller solutions are much more robust and effortlessly out perform their predecessors. These technological advances have improved the overall quality of life for persons pursuing educational endeavors, vocational aspirations, and personal satisfaction.

The industry of Adaptive Technology is one which has been enriched by 25 years of innovation, and has in many respects paralleled its "mainstream" counterpart. over the past 3 decades a couple of notable trends have provided to persons who are blind a platform for access to the "mainstream" in education, vocational, and civic capacities. Much creativity and ingenuity has enabled for concepts such as "synthesized speech" and "refreshable Braille" to be implemented into products which provide access to persons who are blind. The intent of many of these pioneer devices was to bring meaning to the printed word. These devices provided access to the printed word through "refreshable Braille" arrays which displayed the text set forth by an intelligible storage device. The Versa-Braille from Telesensory epitomized this innovation. The Kurzweil Reading machine provided an auditory aspect to this access. These technologies were soon complimented by other technologies which created a conducive environment in which a person who is blind could flourish.

With the emergence of the personal PC came the development and implementation of various mainstream operating systems and corresponding applications. Screenreading and OCR manufacturers rose to the occasion by developing complimentary applications for visually impaired individuals wishing to access such technologies. Manufacturers of refreshable Braille devices also began forming relationships with screenreading manufacturers so that electronic computer text might also be represented tactually to the end user.

While this innovation was occurring, the concept of developing ' conducive environment for persons who are blind to perform specific tasks was developing as well. In 1988 Dean Blazie brought to this industry the Braille 'n Speak, a portable "notetaker" which enabled visually impaired individuals to organize and manage their data portably and efficiently in a proprietary environment. This technology provided much flexibility and independence to individuals who are blind.

Since the emergence of the Braille 'n Speak we have seen a few technological shifts in "mainstream" technology. When the Braille 'n Speak was introduced, the world had not quite yet been introduced to DOS. During the past 13 year, computer users have been introduced to DOS, 4 versions of the Windows Operating system, and to Personal Data Assistants which provide a "notetaking"-type environment for individuals desiring the flexibility and efficiency of a portable solution. These Personal Data Assistants are compatibility with devices such as PCs which use a Windows operating system. Traditional notetakers are not.

The BrailleNote family of products brings to persons who are blind the same fresh approach to portable, information management which is compatible with "mainstream" technologies persons who are blind. Many examples will be offered to the audience which will illustrate the significance of having a comfortable environment in which to perform specific tasks. Secondly, the utilization of Windows CE, a portable yet compatible operating system to desktop versions of Windows, does not only preserve this important environment on a portable device, but it allows for the results produced by such a device to be compatible with, and acceptable for persons who are not visually impaired. Now, Personal Data Assistants to exist for persons who are blind, and the information produced and received by them is effortlessly exchanged with "mainstream technologies". Such an approach to providing an adaptive technological solution promotes the concept of "seamless inclusion", a philosophy upheld by Pulse Data International and HumanWare Inc.


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