2002 Conference Proceedings

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THE NECESSITY AND DEVELOPMENT OF VERY SIMPLE EMAIL SOFTWARE

RJ Cooper
RJ Cooper & Associates, Inc.
27601 Forbes Rd. #39
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
1-800-RJCooper
rj@rjcooper.com 
www.rjcooper.com 
Fax: 949-582-3169

Abstract

The mainstream method of sending/receiving email, via Netscape, Outlook Express, or AOL, is much too complex for many persons with special needs. Responding to requests from the field, the author has developed software that makes emailing/voicemailing possible for this population

Introduction

Email has become a communication staple of our modern age. For persons with disabilities, this capability is even more critical, since it gives that person a parity that does not exist in person. That is, to a person that is emailing with a disabled person, the disabled person may appear as any other email partner.

However, the current email software in popular use (the email 'client') is quite complex in operation requirements. These programs include Netscape Communicator, Outlook [Express], America Online, and Eudora.

Here is a list of program requirements for these programs:

1) Each screen consists of several 'panes', such as panes of a French window. The user must be 'in' the correct pane for their desired operation. There are panes for: folders, inbox, outbox, sent mail, trash.
2) Each frame has within it, lines of text, each of which is small, visually demanding, and is a choice in and of itself.
3) There is no speech output for any of the 3 programs cited.
4) Any question that the software poses is not spoken and is displayed in small font sizes.
5) All menus are in small font sizes.
6) Attaching voicemail requires selection and operation of an external program that has its own operational requirements that are too complex for this population.
7) Attaching pictures requires navigation of the user's hard drive, with no picture preview available.
6) There are no options for intra-facility non-Internet mail.

These are the major issues with current email clients.

Possible Solutions Currently Available

There are, currently, some hardware and software, in our field of Assistive Technology, that may assist a disabled person in the operation of these email clients.

1) For persons with physical challenges, a variety of input devices exist, from switch-adapted trackballs, switch-adapted joysticks, to mouse emulators using single switch input. These devices, along with their special software, allow a person that cannot operate mouse/keyboard, to perform all necessary actions with their specialized input device.

2) For persons with visual challenges, several 'screenreaders' (software the reads the contents or selected area of the screen, out loud) exist, that operate within the email client, thus making the program into a talking program, of sorts. That is, the screenreaders have their *own* operating requirements, with some of these even more complex than the email client.

Development of ICanEmail by the Author

The author has been researching and developing software and hardware for persons with special needs since 1984. He is considered a pioneer and leader within the field of Assistive Technology. The source of many of his developments and inventions come directly from requests of practitioners and parents of people with special needs. Such was the case with the development of an easy email client.

Using a sequential-presentation approach versus a simultaneous-choice approach, the author has been researching the efficacy of a cross-platform program addressing all the issues listed above, which he considers "restrictions." Each restriction requires addressing within the new software. Please reference the above list to correlate possible solutions.

1) There must be no screens with different areas of focus. Each screen must be visually clear, with movement either forward or backward in the sequential presentation of choices and opportunity for data entry (i.e. the subject, body of the message, voicemail).
2) Any screen with more than the 2 choices (forward, back) must have a very clear visual structure to it.
3) Speech output, along with words highlighted as spoken, must be constant through the program, for every possible choice and text presentation.
4) All text presentation must be displayed in very large font size.
5) There must be no menus. All choices must be presented sequentially, in the 'line' of program flow.
6) Recording and attaching voicemail must be 'in-line', with the only choice being whether to record/attach or skip the step.
7) Choosing and attaching pictures must occur 'in-line', with preview available and specific folders accessible (a helper would set these folders up).
6) Users must be able to send mail intra-facility, without using the Internet at all.

Conclusion

In order for persons with disabilities to use the email capability of the Internet, operation of an email client (program) is necessary. The current collection of email clients possess operational requirements above and beyond the capabilities of many people with special needs. It is the author's intention to develop a software program addressing all the issues that these current email clients present.


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