2003 Conference Proceedings

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Larry Skutchan
Rob Meredith
1839 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
Email: lskutchan@aph.org

Rob Meredith

Educational software has traditionally been among the most inaccessible software on the market, especially for blind and visually impaired users. Commercial companies are gradually becoming more aware of accessibility considerations in the design of their software, but even with an awareness, there are still multitudes of issues. While APH makes an attempt to educate and even work directly with other companies, the most efficient and immediate solution to the problem of getting educational software into the hands of blind consumers is to develop these packages itself. In an effort to provide meaningful titles, APH took a multi-pronged approach to the problem. The research department created a new division, solicited input, and tested with consumers.

First, the research department created a software engineering group and hired experts in the field to design and develop this software. The group contains 6 programmers, many of whom have extensive experience with adaptive technology. 5 of the 6, in fact, are blind or visually impaired.

Secondly, APH solicits input from a variety of sources. These sources include direct input from customers, opinions from teachers and professionals in the field, and through focus groups that APH periodically holds. This input usually comes in the form of a broad based solution to a problem or as a problem that requires a solution.

Finally, the software engineering group extensively tests its software and hardware with the consumers that will be using the product. This test cycle usually includes a mail list that keeps the testers closely in touch with the engineers on the project. Updates to the software are distributed through this e-mail list as well, so the turn around time is kept to a minimum.

Through this multi-pronged approach to development, APH has been able to create and distribute several new, exciting educational software products in recent months.

Book Wizard is among the most exciting of the new products recently introduced. Book Wizard is designed to work with Digital Talking Books as specified by the DAISY consortium and the NISO z3984 specifications. This program comes in two configurations, one for the company or institution that wants to create Digital Talking Books, and one for the consumer that wants to read these books.

Studio Recorder is a sound editing package geared toward spoken word content. Already in use at the studios in APH, this software combines simplicity with power to provide a digital audio editing package that surpasses many commercial packages and adds features not found in any digital audio editing software.

Teacher's Pet is the first accessible tool designed to create accessible tests and drills. The creation and the test-taking aspects of the software are both accessible, and the program lets the teacher or parent create study and test materials that contain essay responses, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, matching, and true/ false question types. Each question may also contain accompanying graphics and audio recordings.

Termite Torpedo is the first arcade style game designed especially for blind and visually impaired users. This Tetris like game features large print and high contrasting colors along with an audio mode that promotes focusing and tracking skills.

Each of these packages will be briefly demonstrated, and a question and answer session is scheduled for the end of the presentation.

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