Tools to provide access abound

Tools to provide access abound<@VM>Products offer braille, speech synthesis, screen magnification<@VM>Mobility impairment devices are diverse

Agencies that need to make systems accessible to users have a supermarket of products from which to choose


Mandates are easier made than met. That's especially true when it comes to complying with the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998.

The three pieces of Comfort Keyboard Company Inc.'s keyboard can be positioned independently. It's priced at $299.
No single product or practice will satisfy 508's requirements. But deadlines are looming from the Access Board'the first one is June 21'and the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Information technology managers are looking for small-scale desktop hardware and software to apply on an ad hoc basis for individual users. The products listed in the accompanying charts are inexpensive, readily available and easy to install.

Beyond Section 508's vague requirement that Internet and computer data be accessible is the FAR's general rule that most government IT purchases made on or after June 25 take accessibility options into account.

New PC designs will help meet requirements, but in many cases agencies will also have to buy special hardware or software to install on existing or new equipment to make it accessible.

Know the accessories

Before you make your purchase decisions, it's important to understand the range of available accessories that will help you comply with 508. In many cases, you can still rely on large procurement contracts for hardware and make only a few additional purchases of adaptive accessories or software for individual users' needs.

Greystone Digital Inc.'s Big Keys keyboards put color and large keys into a standard-size keyboard. Prices start at $169.
There is no such thing as a universally accessible computer, so this is the best approach anyway. It also fits agencies' traditional purchasing methods.

Start your search for compliance assistance at This Access Board site spells out what 508 means to your agency.

When you read this explanation, it's instructive to note that the entire Americans with Disabilities Act already applies to most federal offices, even if it's seldom strictly enforced.
The exact requirements of 508 are open to interpretation. But government clearly is making a major effort to renovate its offices as well as the public face of Web sites accessible to disabled users.

The full 508 standard is posted at

The quantity and range of user needs and products that would make equipment usable by people with different and sometimes multiple disabilities are what complicate ADA and 508 compliance.

Solutions may vary

For many users you have to address both input and output, each of which could require different solutions.

Kinesis Corp.'s Evolution Keyboard can be mounted in a variety of places and includes onboard programming. Its price starts at $479.
You can manage some situations with software. You can solve other problems with hardware standalone devices, rather than accessories that attach to standard computers. Other situations require a mix of hardware and software.

Input and control tasks pose particular obstacles for users with visual and motor-control impairments. About the only good news is that hearing-impaired users normally have little trouble using standard computers and software. Audible clues are often available on computers, but many hearing users work with PCs and Macintosh systems daily without relying on any audible feedback.

Most visually impaired users type on a standard keyboard, but for those who cannot there are two kinds of braille keyboards'straight line and ergonomic. It's necessary to know which one your user needs.

Even the best touch typist or braille user needs to know what they have typed. For the latter, sometimes a large monitor on which you can change the contrast settings and use low-resolution video settings is enough, especially if you select large fonts in your word processor and other software.

The Lowdown

' What is it? Assistive or adaptive products are devices and software that make your computer hardware and programs accessible to users with disabilities.

' Why do I need it? You need it if you have employees or users with disabilities that reduce their access to computer hardware or software. Section 508 deadlines are looming, and the Americans with Disabilities Act already requires accessibility.

' When don't I need it? The specifics of Section 508's requirements seem to be a moving target. But the spirit of the law is clear: You have to be ready to provide access to all users. If you don't have users who need adaptive technology in your office today, you might tomorrow.

' What about procurement and implementation? The buying methods typically used by agencies are suitable for these products. But be ready to deal with a very different kind of vendor than you do when buying 1,000 PCs. Many of these products are made and sold by small businesses that prefer to work only through distributors. Inventories usually are small because of the rel
tively low demand for these products, so be prepared to wait for deliveries.

Many vendors will offer trial periods and work directly with users. This is vital, because there often is no way to know which product will work best for an individual unless you try different ones.

Support typically is excellent but is mostly geared to individual users.

' Must-know info? Most adaptive technology for the office has to be individualized; this is one area where one size never fits all.

But you don't have to go overboard. You can meet a lot of users' needs by adapting work patterns or simply adjusting your current hardware or software. Giving the largest monitor to the most visually impaired user makes sense, for instance, as does changing PC settings to display larger fonts.

You can go a step further with magnification and high-contrast software that makes Microsoft Windows, for instance, easier to use.

But users with severe visual impairments need a workstation with another form of output, such as refreshable braille or speech synthesis.

For this kind of help, you could turn to a personal digital assistant. PDAs have become vital office tools, and their adaptive capabilities are ahead of standard hardware technology.
Braille and speech output note-takers, which are nothing more than PDAs with an alternative output device, have been around for years.

Many are used in the field to store data for later downloading into an office computer. Some also are used as alternate output devices for a desktop PC or notebook. In this case, the unit performs two roles, as a PDA and a display, and is thus very cost-effective.

The other major category of disabilities that agencies must address is mobility.

Mobility impairments can run the gamut from missing digits or limbs, to neurological conditions that prevent fine motor control, to repetitive stress injuries that make it necessary to alter the way long-time employees have worked for years.

It's only natural

Keyboards that conform to natural positions of hands and arms fall into the category of ergonomic devices rather than adaptive technology, but the progression of RSI can blur the boundary between these categories.

Also available are even more extreme key devices, such as one-handed, extra large or, to minimize arm movement, extra small keyboards.

Pointing devices other than mice can be used by anyone, but are especially important for disabled workers.

Mouse alternatives include foot-operated mouse emulators, trackballs, touchpads, joysticks with mouse emulation software either built in or installed on the computer, and a variety of custom switch devices for people with special needs.

Microsoft Corp. operating systems come with the MouseKeys program, which lets users move the cursor using a keypad. You can use the program with separate keypads for notebook PCs or with desktop PCs using a standard Windows keyboard.

Speech recognition software still is not perfect, but for many years it has been good enough to serve disabled individuals (see story, Page 33).

Telesensory Corp.'s Aladdin Rainbow is a 14-inch color magnifying system. It's priced at $2,995.
Fast, accurate speech recognition that interprets normal speech is an excellent way to control computers, or at least to input text. Until recently, three major contenders were vying for a place in the desktop PC market for accessibility items. Your office might already have their software.

IBM Corp.'s ViaVoice and Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Lernout & Hauspie'which bought Dragon Systems Inc. last year and has since encountered rough economic going'are both inexpensive, relatively sophisticated programs that are perfectly suited to providing some mobility-impaired users with ways to navigate their screens and input text.

ViaVoice is included in some new IBM systems.

The third contender is Voice Express from Lernout & Hauspie.

The Duxbury Braille Translator from Duxbury Systems Inc. does translation and formatting of braille and includes word processing software. Its price ranges from $550 to $645.
There are two kinds of basic speech recognition. The easiest to develop is discrete speech, which does a good job of recognizing single words. This has been around for many years. The second kind, continuous speech software capable of understanding normal speech, was introduced by Dragon Systems in 1997 and is still in need of improvement. Most programs have the ability to learn a user's speech patterns and pronunciation. They begin as speaker independent systems but rapidly become much more accurate for a specific user.

Such a program is often priced according to the size of its vocabulary. But it isn't necessarily better to have a program with a large vocabulary'the more words it can recognize, the more sound-alike words it will have to reconcile.

The best option often is to get a program with a small working vocabulary to which you can add job-specific terminology. This both speeds recognition processing and increases accuracy.
Other companies, such as SpeechWorks International Inc. of Boston and Philips Electronics of Atlanta, offer powerful server-based continuous speech recognition systems, but they are not systems you could buy and install in time to meet the 508 deadlines.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. He was a national judge in the 1991-92 Johns Hopkins National Search for Computing Applications to Assist Persons with Disabilities and is the author of a 1994 book on adaptive office technology that was co-sponsored by Government Computer News. E-mail him at [email protected].

Product Platform Notes Price
Advanced Access Devices

Santa Clara, Calif.

SuperBraille 2000 PC Complete laptop system with 40-cell braille display and

extensive expansion capabilities
$10,000 up
AI Squared

Manchester Center, Vt.

ZoomText Xtra Level 1,

Level 1+, Level 2, Level 2+
Windows and MS-DOS 2X to 16X screen magnifier software $395 to

Bigshot Windows Screen magnification software designed to relieve eyestrain $99
Arctic Technologies

International Inc.

Troy, Mich.

Spirit 600, 600B PC Serial port-driven external speech synthesis unit; 600B has nickel cadmium batteries $299,

Beyond Sight Inc.

Littleton, Colo.

Sendero GPS Talk Standalone Speech synthesis GPS unit gives directions, position and points of interest $3,995
GPS Talk Windows GPS talk software $899
Visionary Reader Standalone Integrated camera and viewer platform magnifies up to 60X $1,795 up
MagniSight 6 Standalone Portable magnification system includes 6-inch LCD screen $1,795
MagniSight Portable Camera Any cable-ready TV Camera, power supply and stand without monitor $795
EVS JORDY Standalone Wearable low-vision charge-coupled device $2,795
Arctic SQWERET Standalone Note-taker and speech synthesizer includes serial PC up/down link $1,025
Arctic Ergo braille Standalone Similar but uses ergonomically placed braille input keys $995
Arctic Braille Pad Standalone Similar but uses straight-line input keys $995
Duxbury Systems Inc.

Wexford, Mass.

Duxbury Braille Translator MS-DOS 5.0 up,

Win 3.1 up, Mac
Performs braille translation and formatting; includes a word processor $550 to

MegaDots MS-DOS 6.0 up Braille translation intended for mass production such as converting books $540
MegaMath MS-DOS 6.0 up Mathematical notation add-on for MegaDots $325
Braille Board Windows 3.1 up Large-font braille for creating signs $595
Freedom Scientific Inc.

St. Petersburg, Fla.

PowerBraille 40, 65, 80 MS-DOS, Windows, OS/2, Unix DOS, Windows, OS/2, Unix Portable braille output for computer screens, includes serial and parallel ports, with 40-, 65- or 80-cell output $4,495 to

Braille Blazer Embosser Various Printer and speech synthesizer handles standard paper, braille paper, plastics $1,695
VersaPoint Duo PC, Mac, Blaise note-takers High-speed, two-sided braille printer includes speech synthesis, parallel port $3,795
DECtalk PC PC ISA card produces synthesized speech from ASCII files $1,195
Victor Standalone Speech output CD-ROM e-book player with enhanced navigation tools $495
OpenBook 5 Windows OCR and scanned image conversion with editing for braille or speech synthesis $995
Braille 'n Speak Standalone Portable 6-key braille notetaker with speech synthesis with serial port $1,299
Braille Lite Standalone Similar with 18-character refreshable braille display; can serve as output for PC $3,395
Braille Lite 40 Standalone Portable 6-key braille note-taker with 40-character refreshable display and serial port $5,495
Type 'n Speak Standalone Portable QWERTY note-taker with speech synthesis with serial port $1,395
Braille Note 18 Standalone Windows CE based braille key e-mail and notetaker (PDA) with 18-cell display $3,795
Braille Note 32 Standalone Same but 32-character display $5,495
Voice Note Standalone Same but speech synthesis instead of braille output $1,995
Magic for Windows Win9x Screen magnification software $295
Magic for NT/2000 NT, Win 2000 Screen magnification software $395
Alva Access InLarge Mac OS 6.0.5 up Screen magnification software $295
RC Systems Inc.

Everett, Wash.

Doubletalk PC PC ISA-bus speech synthesizer with software and speaker $289
Doubletalk LT Serial port External speech synthesis unit connects to serial port $320
Telesensory Corp.

Sunnyvale, Calif.

Aladdin Companion Standalone 18-pound video magnifier system with 9-inch B&W monitor $1,395
Aladdin Classic Standalone Magnifier system with 14-inch monitor $1,795
Aladdin Pro+ Standalone Similar with 14-inch monitor and magnification to 50X $2,295
Aladdin Ultra Standalone Similar but 17-inch screen and magnification to 60X $2,095
Aladdin Rainbow Standalone 14-inch color system $2,995
MiniViewer Standalone Two-pound portable 5X to 15X viewing system with 6-inch LCD screen $1,995

Company Product Platform Notes Price
Alphasmart Inc.

Cupertino, Calif.

Alphasmart 3000 PC, Mac, printer compatible Standalone word processor with various keyboard layouts including left or right hand, QWERTY $199 up
Comfort Keyboard Company Inc.

St. Francis, Wis.

Comfort Keyboard PC, Mac Three-piece keyboard can be positioned independently; includes complex supports $299
ErgoFlex Keyboard PC, Mac Same but no mechanical support; can be mounted on existing hardware $149
Greystone Digital Inc.

Huntersville, N.C.

Big Keys PC (PS/2 and AT) Standard-size keyboard in ABC or QWERTY, with 48 or 60 one-inch square keys $169 up
Key Stickers for Big Keys Has color or high-contrast stickers for Big Key keyboards $12 up
Hunter Digital

Los Angeles

NoHands Mouse PC (PS/2 and AT), Mac Two-unit foot-operated mouse substitute $290
Infogrip Inc.

Ventura, Calif.

BAT Keyboard PC, Mac Family of one- and two-hand keyboards that require no wrist movement $199 up
Keyboard with Keyguard PC (PS/2 and AT), Mac Standard, Windows or 101-key keyboard with Lexan overlay $150 to $170
Micropad 622, 627, 631, 632 PC (PS/2 and AT), PC serial port, or Mac USB Keypad $40-$75
Adesso Nu-Form Keyboard PC (PS/2 and AT), Mac Flat or contoured one-piece keyboards, in 105-key and 106-key configurations with touchpad $70 to $110
Programmable Foot Switch PC, Mac Foot-pedal-operated programmable three-button switch $119
Intellitools Inc.

Petaluma, Calif.

Intellikeys PC, Mac Motor- and cognitive-assistive large-key keyboard $395
Kinesis Corp.

Bothell, Wash.

Contour Classic Keyboard PC (AT and PS/2 ) One-piece keyboard with very deep wells holding the keys $275
Maxim Keyboard PC, Mac, Sun Keyboard hinged in middle so it can "tent" into a more comfortable position $139 up
Evolution Keyboard PC Track, chair and desktop mount two-part keyboard with onboard programming $479 up
Microsoft Corp.

Redmond, Wash.

Natural Keyboard Elite PC (PS/2 and USB) Split, one-piece ergonomic keyboard $45
Natural Keyboard Pro PC (PS/2 and USB) Split, one-piece ergonomic keyboard with 19 Internet hot keys $75
Pace Development Corp.

Nashville, Tenn.

Pace Adjustable

PC, Mac Two-piece split keyboard with dual spacebars, adjustable stand $249
King Keyboard PC (PS/2, AT and serial), Mac Oversize QWERTY and frequency-of-use keyboards $900
Tash Inc.

Richmond, Va.

Mouse Mover 5004, 5005, 5006 Windows PC (PS/2 and serial), USB PC, Mac Has five or six switches, interface box emulates mouse $275
WinMini PC (PS/2 and serial) with Win9x Frequency-of-use or QWERTY keyboard with mouse control in small format $750
Joystick Plus PC (PS/2, AT or serial) Joystick mouse replicator $399
Switch Click PC, Mac Simple switch interface for compatible software $99 up


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