2005 Conference Proceedings

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Susan Stageberg
Documentation Specialist, Iowa Dept. for the Blind
Email: stageberg.susan@blind.state.ia.us
515 281 1351

Brian Walker
Technology Analyst, Iowa Dept. for the Blind
Email: walker.brian@blind.state.ia.us
515 281 1391


Ordinarily, communication between a person who is deaf-blind and other individuals requires specialized skills or devices that are not generally available. Even basic communication over the telephone is not possible without expensive and highly-specialized technology.

A number of stand-alone telecommunication devices are (or have been) available to enable individuals who are deaf-blind to communicate with others--either face-to-face or over the telephone. The Braille Phone from Audio Visual Mart Inc. and the Krown Braille TTY from Krown Manufacturing Inc. provide TDD functionality with refreshable Braille output. However, these devices are highly specialized and support only communication over the phone or face-to-face.

Ideally, a more powerful technology--one that is not so specialized--could be configured to support all manner of communication for a person who is deaf-blind (e.g., telephone, face-to-face, and the Internet).

A More Robust Solution

A personal computer using a screen access program (such as JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes), a refreshable Braille display, and a software-based TDD application might be able to facilitate over-the-phone communication. In addition, because the computer is an open-ended and incredibly flexible piece of technology, many other forms of communication can also be supported--at least in theory. E-mail, text based chat programs, instant messaging, and Internet based information are all available on the personal computer, extending the possible communication options for a deaf-blind individual beyond what is possible with a stand-alone TDD.

NexTalk-VM from NXi Communications Inc. is TDD communications software. This application boasts numerous features, and it would appear to be an effective computer-based TDD solution. Does this application work "out of the box" with screen access technology? Or are custom configuration settings, (script or set files) required? How usable is the interface when the only means of reading the screen is a refreshable Braille display driven by a screen access program?

This last question is particularly significant in light of the experience gained by the Project ASSIST team at the Iowa Department for the Blind in its extensive work developing computer software tutorials for persons who are deaf-blind using refreshable Braille displays as their only means for extracting information from the computer. In the course of this work, the team has learned that the task of operating specific programs is made more complicated when the user is forced to rely exclusively on output generated by a refreshable Braille display as opposed to speech output. In many cases, the support provided by today's screen access software for refreshable Braille displays is not as robust as the support provided for speech users.

The two major screen access programs used in the United States today are JAWS for Windows, from Freedom Scientific, and Window-Eyes, from GW Micro. Neither of these programs includes specialized support for NexTalk-VM.

This presentation will explore the following areas of NexTalk-VM when used with a screen reader and refreshable Braille display:

Installation: Is the NextTalk-VM installation program accessible to a person using a screen access program, refreshable Braille display, and no speech?

Screen Access Software Configuration: Must configuration changes be made within the screen access program in order for NexTalk-VM to be accessible? If changes must be made, how extensive are these changes?

Accessibility: Are all NexTalk-VM features accessible? Are any work-arounds required to review important information with the screen access program and refreshable Braille display?

Ease of Use: How easy is it to use NexTalk-VM with a screen access program and a refreshable Braille display?

If used with a screen access program and a refreshable Braille display, is NexTalk-VM software an effective TDD solution for deaf-blind individuals?

These are the questions we will address in our presentation. In the end, we hope to demonstrate that the computer, with a suite of properly-configured software, can serve as a central communications point for persons who are deaf-blind and who use Braille as their primary means of communication. Internet, telephone, and face-to-face communication could be handled by one flexible piece of technology instead of two or three specialized technologies.

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