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 chooseBY JOHN MCCORMICK
'|'SPECIAL TO GCN
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 www.access-board.gov/sec508/nprm.htm
. 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 www.section508.gov/docs/Final99607A.htm
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.
' 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Advanced Access Devices|
Santa Clara, Calif.
|Complete laptop system with 40-cell braille display and|
extensive expansion capabilities
Manchester Center, Vt.
|ZoomText Xtra Level 1,|
Level 1+, Level 2, Level 2+
|Windows and MS-DOS|
|2X to 16X screen magnifier software|
|Screen magnification software designed to relieve eyestrain|
|Spirit 600, 600B|
|Serial port-driven external speech synthesis unit; 600B has nickel cadmium batteries|
|Beyond Sight Inc.|
|Sendero GPS Talk|
|Speech synthesis GPS unit gives directions, position and points of interest|
|GPS talk software|
|Integrated camera and viewer platform magnifies up to 60X|
|Portable magnification system includes 6-inch LCD screen|
|MagniSight Portable Camera|
|Any cable-ready TV|
|Camera, power supply and stand without monitor|
|Wearable low-vision charge-coupled device|
|Note-taker and speech synthesizer includes serial PC up/down link|
|Arctic Ergo braille|
|Similar but uses ergonomically placed braille input keys|
|Arctic Braille Pad|
|Similar but uses straight-line input keys|
|Duxbury Systems Inc.|
|Duxbury Braille Translator|
|MS-DOS 5.0 up,|
Win 3.1 up, Mac
|Performs braille translation and formatting; includes a word processor|
|MS-DOS 6.0 up|
|Braille translation intended for mass production such as converting books|
|MS-DOS 6.0 up|
|Mathematical notation add-on for MegaDots|
|Windows 3.1 up|
|Large-font braille for creating signs|
|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|
|Braille Blazer Embosser|
|Printer and speech synthesizer handles standard paper, braille paper, plastics|
|PC, Mac, Blaise note-takers|
|High-speed, two-sided braille printer includes speech synthesis, parallel port|
|ISA card produces synthesized speech from ASCII files|
|Speech output CD-ROM e-book player with enhanced navigation tools|
|OCR and scanned image conversion with editing for braille or speech synthesis|
|Braille 'n Speak|
|Portable 6-key braille notetaker with speech synthesis with serial port|
|Similar with 18-character refreshable braille display; can serve as output for PC|
|Braille Lite 40|
|Portable 6-key braille note-taker with 40-character refreshable display and serial port|
|Type 'n Speak|
|Portable QWERTY note-taker with speech synthesis with serial port|
|Braille Note 18|
|Windows CE based braille key e-mail and notetaker (PDA) with 18-cell display|
|Braille Note 32|
|Same but 32-character display|
|Same but speech synthesis instead of braille output|
|Magic for Windows|
|Screen magnification software|
|Magic for NT/2000|
|NT, Win 2000|
|Screen magnification software|
|Alva Access InLarge|
|Mac OS 6.0.5 up|
|Screen magnification software|
|RC Systems Inc.|
|ISA-bus speech synthesizer with software and speaker|
|External speech synthesis unit connects to serial port|
|18-pound video magnifier system with 9-inch B&W monitor|
|Magnifier system with 14-inch monitor|
|Similar with 14-inch monitor and magnification to 50X|
|Similar but 17-inch screen and magnification to 60X|
|14-inch color system|
|Two-pound portable 5X to 15X viewing system with 6-inch LCD screen|
|PC, Mac, printer compatible|
|Standalone word processor with various keyboard layouts including left or right hand, QWERTY|
|Comfort Keyboard Company Inc.|
St. Francis, Wis.
|Three-piece keyboard can be positioned independently; includes complex supports|
|Same but no mechanical support; can be mounted on existing hardware|
|Greystone Digital Inc.|
|PC (PS/2 and AT)|
|Standard-size keyboard in ABC or QWERTY, with 48 or 60 one-inch square keys|
|for Big Keys|
|Has color or high-contrast stickers for Big Key keyboards|
|PC (PS/2 and AT), Mac|
|Two-unit foot-operated mouse substitute|
|Family of one- and two-hand keyboards that require no wrist movement|
|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|
|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|
|Foot-pedal-operated programmable three-button switch|
|Motor- and cognitive-assistive large-key keyboard|
|Contour Classic Keyboard|
|PC (AT and PS/2 )|
|One-piece keyboard with very deep wells holding the keys|
|PC, Mac, Sun|
|Keyboard hinged in middle so it can "tent" into a more comfortable position|
|Track, chair and desktop mount two-part keyboard with onboard programming|
|Natural Keyboard Elite|
|PC (PS/2 and USB)|
|Split, one-piece ergonomic keyboard|
|Natural Keyboard Pro|
|PC (PS/2 and USB)|
|Split, one-piece ergonomic keyboard with 19 Internet hot keys|
|Pace Development Corp.|
|Two-piece split keyboard with dual spacebars, adjustable stand|
|PC (PS/2, AT and serial), Mac|
|Oversize QWERTY and frequency-of-use keyboards|
|Mouse Mover 5004, 5005, 5006|
|Windows PC (PS/2 and serial), USB PC, Mac|
|Has five or six switches, interface box emulates mouse|
|PC (PS/2 and serial) with Win9x|
|Frequency-of-use or QWERTY keyboard with mouse control in small format|
|PC (PS/2, AT or serial)|
|Joystick mouse replicator|
|Simple switch interface for compatible software|