2006 Conference General Sessions



Mark Uslan, Director
American Foundation for the Blind  (AFB TECH)
949 3rd Ave., Ste 200
Huntington, WV 25701

Phone: (304) 523-8651
Email: muslan@afb.net

Presenter #2

Darren Burton, National Program Associate in Technology
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB TECH)
949 3rd Ave., Ste 200
Huntington, WV 25701

Phone: (304) 523-8651
Email: dburton@afb.net


Presenter #3

Lee Huffman, National Technology Associate
American Foundation for the Blind  (AFB TECH)
949 3rd Ave., Ste 200
Huntington, WV 25701

Phone: (304) 523-8651
Email: lhuffman@afb.net

Presenter #4

Brad Hodges, National Technology Associate
American Foundation for the Blind  (AFB TECH)
949 3rd Ave., Ste 200
Huntington, WV 25701

Phone: (304) 523-8651
Email: bhodges@afb.net

AFB TECH evaluates the accessibility of products for use by blind and visually impaired persons. This presentation will report on findings on four projects: Visual Display Standards, Video Magnifiers, Cell Phones, and Copy Machines

Developing Research-based Guidelines for Improving Access to Small Screen Visual Displays

Today, devices that use small-screen visual displays are prevalent in all areas of our daily lives. These displays can be found in many consumer devices and appliances including phones, office equipment, point of sale devices, and home-use medical devices. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is involved in a three phase research effort to develop usability standards for small screen visual displays.

The objective of the first phase of the study is to review the literature on existing standards and guidelines and measure key visual characteristics of the displays of a test group of consumer devices.  Current visual display design practices are based on human factors and disability literature, but to date, no research-based guidelines have been found in this literature. In regard to key visual characteristics, vision experts and ergonomics experts alike agree that the most important characteristics of a display are font size (and type), contrast, luminance, glare and hue. Using measurement standards of the Video Electronics Standards Association, AFB and Marshall University have designed and built laboratory testing equipment for measuring these display characteristics. A test group of 12 home blood pressure monitors (HBPMs) was utilized. These procedures and data from the results of measuring each of the characteristics of the HBPMs will be presented.

In phase two, data will be gathered on a wider subset of small screen visual displays.  In phase three, a clinical study will be conducted to define optimal small screen visual display parameters for visually impaired subjects. Ultimately this research is designed to provide the manufacturer with specifications for designing small screen visual displays to be as readable as possible by visually impaired persons. These specifications will also assist all other end users who require a visual interface.  

Video Magnifiers
Included in AFB Tech’s product evaluations of video magnifiers in 2005 were the myReader buy Humanware and the MagniLink S Student by Low Vision International.  Both of these products were chosen for evaluation because they are fairly new to the market and offer alternatives to the traditional desktop video magnifier, or CCTV.  

In the beginning of 2005, Humanware launched and began shipping the myReader, which it calls “the world’s first low vision auto-reader.”  The myReader combines full page document capture, navigation without an x-y table, rearranged text layout, automatic scrolling, full color viewing, and auto focus into a twenty pound, transportable video magnifier.

The MagniLink S Student is a portable video magnifier system for connection to a laptop or desktop computer.  Its rotating camera provides both close and distant viewing making it usable in a classroom, office, or home setting.  This device has no x-y table, and due to its “L” shaped design, takes up very little desk space.  The MagniLink S Student also has the capability of taking a snapshot of an image from the camera and storing it on the computer.  At a later time, this image can be reviewed on the screen or printed onto paper.

AFB TECH conducted thorough evaluations of myReader and MagniLink S Student taking into consideration their ease of assembly, their user manuals and their description of product features and functions, the accessibility of their accompanying documentation, their user interface, and all of their magnification and text formatting functions.  As with all new products of every kind, there is some room for improvement in both of these video magnifiers.  AFB TECH will discuss our product evaluation results and conclusions for both products in our presentation.

Copy Machines

In the summer of 2005, AFB TECH began a project to evaluate the accessibility of commonly used office equipment.  In order to choose which office equipment products to evaluate, a survey of small businesses was conducted to determine what office equipment they use and expect new employees to be able to operate. As a result of this survey, we chose to evaluate large multi-purpose copy machines as well as smaller, less expensive desktop multi-purpose printers in the 2005 phase of the project.

The large copy machines we evaluated were the expensive, copy center style systems that a business might locate in a common area and have available for all employees to use.  These machines can cost several thousand dollars and are often leased.  They can be networked to everyone's PC work station for printing purposes, or users can operate the machines directly for copy, fax, scanning, e-mail and fax purposes.  

In our evaluation lab, we examined the accessibility of the interface of three of these systems, one manufactured by Pitney-Bowes, one by Sharp, and one by Xerox.  We also researched many other systems over the Internet to see if other systems used similar user interfaces.

All three of these systems, as well as the overwhelming majority of the systems researched over the Internet use similar user interfaces featuring a series of control buttons and a touch screen display.  Because the printing functions are controlled by the user's PC, there are no accessibility barriers as long as the user has equipped his or her PC with the appropriate assistive technology such as screen reader or screen magnifier software.  The basic function of making one or multiple copies of an original document is also accessible.  However, nearly all of the other features and functions of these systems are not accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.  This is because none of these systems feature speech output, and because nearly all of the features and functions are controlled by the inaccessible menus on the touch screen interface.  Also, the visual characteristics of the touch screen interface, such as font size and contrast, are not designed to be eas!
ily viewed by people with low vision.

The Xerox system, however, can be connected to a separate PC equipped with a screen reader and screen magnifier to provide an accessible interface for blind or visually impaired users.  Although this is the only system available on the market with an accessible interface, it does add extra cost, and is susceptible to common crash problems associated with PCs.

The smaller, less expensive desktop multi-purpose printers evaluated included a Hewlett-Packard and an Epson system.  These desktop systems are much less expensive than the larger copy center systems, costing between $100 and $200.  They can print, copy, scan and fax, but they are designed for personal use and are not designed to carry the heavy workload that the larger systems can.

These systems also present accessibility barriers, but the barriers are not as significant as those presented by the large copy center systems.  Although these systems also do not feature speech output and have small screen displays that have not been designed to be easily viewed by people with low vision, they do not feature inaccessible touch screen controls.  Instead, these systems have tactilely discernable buttons to control their features and functions.

Cell Phones

For the past four years, AFB TECH has been tracking the evolving trends in the accessibility of cell phones.  We have evaluated several cell phones on the market to determine accessibility for blind or visually impaired users, and to see what cell phone manufacturers and service providers are doing to comply with what is commonly referred to as Section 255.  Section 255 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, requires that cell phone manufacturers and service providers do all that is "readily achievable" to make each product or service accessible.

Our presentation will provide an overview of what is currently available on the market for blind and visually impaired cell phone users, including phones with built-in accessibility features as well as phones that are compatible with screen reader and screen magnifier software.  We will also discuss our evaluation results and demonstrate some of the models and their accessibility features.

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