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By: Amy Salmon, MEd. The Hadley School for the Blind
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By: Amy Salmon, MEd. The Hadley School for the Blind


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  • 1. By: Amy Salmon, MEd. The Hadley School for the Blind   March 2010
  • 2.
    • Think about how you use technology every day:
      • At work
      • At school
      • At home
      • Recreationally
    • Could you get through your day without technology?
  • 3.
    • Think about your client, consumer or student who is visually impaired. Can they successfully and independently get through every day without technology?
    • As a professional, you play a critical role in the technology process. This does not mean you must become access technology experts. Just know the steps to help your client or student on the road to the appropriate technology solution.
  • 4.
    • The need or goal for the technology
    • What’s at Best Buy (or mainstream technology options)
    • Access Technology Solutions - Screen reading, screen magnification, refreshable Braille
    • Putting it all together
  • 5.
    • First, let’s define what access technology actually is. Some times referred to as assistive or adaptive technology, access technology is:
      • Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether commercially, modified, or custom built, that is used to maintain or increase the functional capabilities of a person with a disability. 
      • Any software or product that provides access to technology for someone who is blind or visually impaired.
  • 6.
    • Screen reading software (JAWS, Window-Eyes, System Access To Go, etc.)
    • Screen magnification software (ZoomText, MAGic, Lightning, etc.)
    • Accessible PDAs or note takers
    • Optical Character Recognition or OCR software (Open Book, Kurzweil 1000).
    • Refreshable Braille displays and braille embossers
    • Digital Talking and DAISY Book players.
  • 7.
    • Let’s face it, every one of your clients or students need some type of access technology. So, how can you help in determining the right technology is selected?
  • 8.
    • Whether the goal is for employment, education or personal independence, technology will play a role.
  • 9.
    • Next, determine the best media for the individual – large print, auditory or tactile.
    • Obtain the following reports or assessments to help in determining the preferred media:
    • Clinical or Ophthalmological exam and diagnosis
    • Functional or low vision evaluation
    • Learning media assessment (for students)
    • Technology evaluation
  • 10.
    • Where and how the technology will be used is the next step. To identify the purpose, you will need to:
    • Define the Environment
    • Where will the technology be used – work, school, home?
    • Determine the Function
    • How will the technology be used – for work, school or personal? Now that you know the preferred media and how and where the technology will be used, let’s look at what technology solutions are available.
  • 11.
    • Before you can use screen reading software, you need a computer. Following is an overview of mainstream technology products that can be adapted for use by someone who is visually impaired.
    • PCs or Windows-Based Computers
    • Available in either desktop, laptop or the latest NetBook versions, today’s PC’s come standard with a soundcard and more than enough power to run access technology. Latest in the PC world is the introduction of the Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft assures us that this new operating system, which is replacing Vista, will solve all our problems.
    • Although a major frustration for all of us, the Office 2007 software and the “ribbon” is here to stay. It’s time to move over and get used to a new way of doing things.
  • 12.
    • Macintosh
    • With improvements in its built-in screen magnification and reading software, Macintosh is starting to make a name for itself in the world of visually impaired computer users. Macintosh computers are available as a desktop, mini or laptop. Consider CloseView or VoiceOver as possible solutions.
  • 13.
    • NetBooks
    • Fairly new to the field, NetBooks are a viable solution. Less expensive and extremely portable, these solutions offer options for anyone who does not need to store files or run numerous programs.
  • 14.
    • Mobile Devices
    • Everyone has a cell phone but what other mobile devices are available?
    • Smart Phones
    • PDAs especially the new iPhone with VoiceOver built-in.
    • Blue Tooth headphones, keyboards and microphones
    • MP3 Players and iPods
    • Add-Ons
    • Like a new car, you can add extras to your technology solutions.
    • Some standard add-ons include:
    • Scanners
    • Printers
    • Speakers
  • 15.
    • How can someone who is visually impaired access and use these devices?
    • For PCs or Windows-Based Systems:
    • Access technology software for a PC or Windows-based system, including laptops, NetBooks and desktops, fall into two categories: Screen Magnification software and Text-to-Speech software
  • 16.
    • Screen Magnification Software enlarges the images and information on the computer screen. Although there are numerous screen magnification programs today, some of the most popular include:
    • ZoomText from AiSquare – available with screen magnification and screen magnification/screen reading
    • MAGic from Freedom Scientific - available with screen magnification and screen magnification/screen reading
    • LunarPlus from Dolphin - available with screen magnification and screen magnification/screen reading
    • Lightening screen magnification from TechReady
  • 17.
    • Screen reading or text-to-speech software that provides speech output access to the computer and software programs. Some of the most popular screen reading software programs available today include:
      • JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific
      • Window-Eyes from G.W. Micro
      • System Access To Go from Serotek
      • NVDA free screen reading software.
      • Hal or SuperNova from Dolphin
      • Thunder from TechReady
  • 18.
    • Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software converts material from a scanner and uses screen magnification and/or screen reading support.
      • Open Book from Freedom Scientific
      • Kurzweil 1000 from Kurzweil Education Systems
      • Cicero Text Reader from Dolphin
        • Braille translation software converts electronic files into Braille.
      • Duxbury Braille Translation software and MegaDots from Duxbury Systems.
  • 19.
    • Macintosh Products
    • With the release of Macintosh’s 10.5 operating system, all Macintosh computers (laptops, minis and desktops) include the screen magnification program CloseView and the screen reading program VoiceOver. Additional products from Apple that are accessible include:
    • iPod – specific models
    • iPhone
  • 20.
    • Refreshable Braille Displays can be paired with a PC or Macintosh computer or mobile device and come in 10, 20, 40 and 80-cells.
    • Braille Embossers output Braille and typically are connected to a computer.
    • Video Magnifiers or CCTVs come in stand-alone models and units that connect through a computer. There are a wide range of video magnifiers available on the market from portable to desktop versions.
  • 21.
    • The following are software and hardware that provide access to various mobile products such as cellular phones, smart phones and PDAs:
    • Mobile Speak
      • offers screen magnification and screen reading software
      • supports cellular phones and PDAs from Code Factory
    • Mobile Geo
      • provides accessible GPS navigation
      • works on a cellular phone, smart phone or PDA available from Code Factory.
    • Talks
      • screen reading software for cellular phones
    • K-NFB Reader
      • combines OCR scan to speech functionality
      • works on a cellular phone from NFB.
    • Blue Tooth Refreshable Braille Displays
      • several portable refreshable Braille displays that can be combined with a mobile device.
  • 22.
    • Following are access technology solutions designed specifically for users who are visually impaired and operate totally independently.
    • Accessible PDAs
    • Previously referred to as note takers, these are all-in-one, portable devices that
    • provide the functionality of a laptop computer with no screen, include
    • accessible GPS navigation, can use either a qwerty or Braille keyboard and include refreshable Braille:
    • PacMate from Freedom Scientific
    • BrailleNote series from HumanWare
    • Braille Sense from G.W. Micro
    • Advancements in adapting mainstream PDAs, cellular phones and NetBooks are changing the face of accessible PDAs.
  • 23.
    • Accessible GPS Navigation
    • In addition to the accessible GPS navigation software available for mobile devices and PDAs, there are several stand-alone systems:
    • Trekker and Trekker Breeze fromHumanWare
  • 24.
    • Book Readers
    • Advancements in electronic books now allow users to download their favorite book
    • online and transfer it to a portable book
    • reader. Following are some of the more popular book readers available today:
    • Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare
    • Book Sense from G.W. Micro
    • BookPort from the American Printing House for the Blind
    • Classmate from HumanWare
  • 25.
    • OCR Systems
    • Stand-alone OCR systems with built-in screen reading software or that can be connected to a computer monitor or T.V. include:
    • SARA Scanning and Reading Appliance from Freedom Scientific
    • Extreme Reader ER1 from Guerilla Technologies
    • ScannaR from Baum Retec
  • 26.
    • Not just anyone can support and sell the types of technology we have discussed. Ask the prospective dealer or vendor the following questions:
    • How long has the dealer been in business?
    • What is his/her knowledge of particular disabilities, and of the equipment being sold? How was that knowledge gained?
    • Does that dealer participate in "continuing education" to stay up-to-date on new developments in both technology and rehabilitation?
    • How long has the dealer supplied the device you are interested in?
    • What is the dealer’s responsibility if errors occur in measuring, ordering, assembling, or delivering the equipment?
  • 27.
    • Does the dealer provide training or refer to sources of training?
    • Does the dealer carry professional liability insurance?
    • Is the dealer willing to provide the names of previous customers using similar equipment as references?
    • Does the dealer have in-house service people and parts inventory adequate to locally service your device?
    • What is the average or typical turn-around time for a repair?
    • Will the dealer give you a written estimate of cost and time for a repair?
    • Will the dealer make comparable loaner equipment available during a repair?
    • Does the dealer provide a warranty on service or customization of equipment?
  • 28.
    • Following are some options for training on the various access technology
    • software and hardware:
    • Online training, manuals and tutorials offered by the access technology manufacturer
    • State rehabilitation agencies.
    • Local rehabilitation agencies for people who are visually impaired.
    • Other users and local computer-user groups for those who are visually impaired.
  • 29.
    • Short-term follow-up should be performed within a couple of months, after the individual has had a chance to become familiar with the technology.
    • Does the assistive technology permit the user to achieve their stated functional goals?
    • Is the user comfortable and proficient with the technology or is additional training needed?
  • 30.
    • Long-term re-evaluation should also be performed on a regular basis. This is necessary because people change, environments change, and technologies change.
    • Have the functional capabilities of the user increased or declined in ways that affect use of the technology?
    • Is the individual functioning in environments different from those when the technology was first selected?
    • Has the device developed problems that justify replacing it, or do newer versions have sufficiently greater capabilities or ease of use to justify a substitution?