2003 Conference Proceedings

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USING MICROSOFT'S POCKET TECHNOLOGIES TO CREATE PORTABLE ALTERNATIVES FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED

Presenter
Larry L. Lewis, Jr.
Product Marketing Manager,
BrailleNote Family
Pulse Data International, LTD.
Phone: 800/722/3393 Extension 664
Email: larryl@pulsedata.com

Over the past five years society has experienced a revolution in regard to portable, hand-held technologies. Several leading manufacturers have presented to world-wide markets a variety of alternatives to both paper and pen as well as desktop PCs. These alternatives range in size, cost, and functionality, and provide to the consumer much flexibility to complete given tasks, thus exponentially increasing his/her productivity in a variety of circumstances.

This portable technology offers numerous advantages to the end user of such devices. Firstly, as their names suggest, such technologies are portable. In an age where many persons commute to and from work, school, or other extra-curricular events, these small, unobtrusive devices allow for the performance of many functions which involves the manipulation of large amounts of information to be accomplished quite easily. Thus, the end user is not bound to bulky, cumbersome technologies to complete the most basic tasks such as recording someone's contact information, editing a document, or simply getting an update on the latest news headlines via the "world wide web". Secondly, the consumer now has the freedom to forsake the often primitive tools of pen and paper to accomplish what is achievable on the devices described above.

Persons who are visually impaired have similar needs as their sighted friends and colleagues. Often, for the sake of productivity, persons who are blind use these hand-held devices to manage large amounts of information in the same manner as their sighted counterparts. One noted distinction between sighted and blind users of such technologies is that manufacturers of these adaptive technologies have been developing such devices for close to twenty years. So portable information management is not nearly as new to persons who are blind as it might be for sighted individuals. To be sure, as society's needs change, so does the technologies which meet these needs.

It is for this reason that the author suggests a departure from two current schools of thought. The first position promotes a concept of creating applications on a closed system that offers little, if any compatibility to mainstream technologies. One advantage of this approach is that the manufacturer then has the freedom to customize a specialized environment for its intended audience, the consumer who is blind. The gravest disadvantage of such an approach would be that by building development efforts on a proprietary operating system, while the individual might flourish within that given system, he/she will not be able to easily share information, results, etc with his/her sighted peers.

Another position suggests that by providing access to current, off the shelf pocket applications, the end user might break out of this proprietary mind-set and flourish in accordance with one's peers. While this approach does promote a more equal exchange of information and functionality, it inadvertently uses inequitable methodologies to achieve this goal because it relies solely on providing access to a portable, graphical user interface to accomplish what can be achieved by a much more intuitive means.

The author suggests a third, more direct approach. This approach capitalizes upon the lessons learned by past development efforts. When creating a modern "portable information management system", it is important not to lose sight of the necessity to create and maintain a user-friendly yet robust environment with the interest of the visually impaired consumer in mind. By implementing Microsoft's Windows CE operating system into a given product, the manufacturer has the flexibility to preserve an intuitive user interface by developing specific applications to perform a number of given tasks. These applications can often use Microsoft's Pocket applications as core ingredients for its development efforts with the manufacturer developing "access shells" for each of these specific applications.

The author will demonstrate initially, the end user must have an affective means of accessing various applications quickly and efficiently to perform various tasks. Once information is obtained, data is retrieved, and the user is presented with various options as to what he/she might wish to accomplish, the user may then flourish within this conducive environment for a person who is blind. Lastly, the results rendered by such tasks can then be shared with sighted educators, co-workers, and friends.

The BrailleNote Family Of Products serves as the catalyst for this functionality. Examples of retrieving on-line information, surfing the "world wide web" and instantly synchronizing data, calendars, address lists, e-mail messages, and web-content with Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Internet Explorer illustrates how a device designed for persons who are blind can maintain the integrity of a suitable environment for portable, 21st century information management while at the same time, seamlessly integrate the usage of mainstream interests into the development and evolution of the BrailleNote line of products. Demonstrations of "KeyWeb" the first pocket web-browser designed for persons who are blind; "KeySync", the first fully functioning synchronization utility for portable adaptive technology with Microsoft Outlook; and multi-lingual considerations will be show-cased.

The author concludes by challenging the audience of service providers and consumers who are blind to incorporate this integrated approach to portable information management into his/her given educational, vocational, and/or residential plans for expanding the opportunities set forth by this solution for persons who are blind.


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