2003 Conference Proceedings

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Jay Leventhal and Deborah Kendrick
American Foundation For The Blind
Email: jaylev@afb.net 
Email: dkkendrick@earthlink.net

AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments, published by The American Foundation for the Blind, is the source for current, objective information on technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. This session will describe the magazine's content, discuss our methodology for evaluating products, identify our current reader demographics, and distinguish AccessWorld as a central resource when purchasing products, training or accommodating a person who is blind or visually impaired.

An increasing number of professionals are called upon to demonstrate expertise in selecting accommodations for a diverse population of people with many distinct disabilities. Recognizing that no one can possibly specialize in all of these complex areas, AccessWorld provides a single source of comprehensive information in one technological area: blindness and visual impairment. What are the leading products and how do they compare with one another? Who are the innovators and pioneers in the field of blindness, and what pieces of legislation are affecting the accessibility of technology and related services for children and adults with impaired vision?

AccessWorld is a bi-monthly magazine focusing on products and issues in the field of assistive technology and visual impairment. It is published in large print, braille, on ASCII disk, audiocassette, and online with a password. AccessWorld supplies you-whether you are a person with a visual impairment, an educator, counselor, trainer or employer-with the information you will need to make effective choices.


AccessWorld began publication in January 2000. In 1999, we examined the best information available in this field, and set out to merge those ingredients into one published package. they were, in short, AFB's National Technology Program's product evaluations (published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness since 1987), and Deborah Kendrick's history of award-winning news, interviews, and how-to articles (as published in TACTIC since 1985). AFB acquired TACTIC in 1999, and prepared to launch AccessWorld.

AccessWorld has thus become the single comprehensive source of information regarding technology as it relates to people with vision loss.

Reader Demographics

Over 300 AccessWorld readers completed a telephone survey conducted in early 2002. In sharp contrast with the general population of people who are blind or visually impaired, 72% of readers surveyed were employed. The most common occupations represented among AccessWorld subscribers are assistive technology trainers or developers (17% of those employed), followed by teachers of visually impaired students (14%), company top executives (11%), computer programmers or specialists (8%), and rehabilitation workers (8%). Many are assistive technology experts; 50% surveyed consider themselves at the intermediate level, 33% consider themselves experts (they could provide training to others), and only 17% consider themselves beginners in need of training. Of those employed, 97% use a computer at work, and 92% of all respondents use a computer at home. Almost all have a college degree (92%.) Three-quarters of respondents were over age 45.

Our traditional audience is people who are blind and the professionals who work with them. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and other legislation, have made it clear that government and private agencies, schools, and corporations must make their facilities, materials and services accessible to people with disabilities. Many of these institutions do not have the resources to have someone on staff who is familiar with accommodations for people who are blind. Blindness is a low-incidence disability. Staff at these institutions will likely come in contact with blind people. They need a resource to turn to at the appropriate time, and AccessWorld is that resource.

Product evaluations

The centerpiece of AccessWorld is our product evaluations, including low vision and blindness products as well as mainstream products. Basic products such as screen readers, screen magnifiers video magnifiers and personal organizers are evaluated on a regular basis. Close attention is paid to choosing new products and products that have had major upgrades. Readers can find the technical specifications comparing two screen readers on one hand, and the "blind-friendliness" of a talking blood pressure cuff on the other. Evaluations are objective, using consistent rating scales and performance tests for measuring pros and cons of all product reviewed, as well as an optional space for manufacturers' comments.

A key element in broadening the publication's appeal and usefulness is the continued effort to present information valuable to novice and expert alike. Every effort is made to establish a balance of products in each issue - as well as throughout several issues sequentially. In addition to general access issues for this specific population, considerations in publishing each issue of the magazine include:

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