The American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind will co-host a free national teleseminar (sponsored by HumanWare) to discuss recent Congressional activities promoting Medicare coverage of low vision devices, such as desktop video magnifiers.
The teleseminar takes place Wednesday, March 12th at 3:00 P.M, EST.
Topics will include pending legislation, policy implications of permanent Medicare program changes, and how advocates can participate in the policy process.
The blindness community has long advocated for Medicare coverage of assistive technology devices. Currently, Medicare does not fund devices that use lenses, regardless of other functions, just as eyeglasses and contact lenses are excluded from coverage.
Proposed legislation, H.R. 3749, introduced by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), would initiate a five-year, $62.5 million demonstration project to fund devices deemed medically necessary through clinical evaluation.
To attend, call 1.866.939.3921 ten minutes prior to the start and tell the operator you're joining the "low vision devices" call. You need not preregister.
GW Micro's Lex Air is a portable camera system that attaches to a computer and uses Lex literacy software to make text more accessible.
The system is designed for computer users with print disabilities such as dyslexia or visual impairment and students who prefer instant, bi-modal access to printed text.
The camera scans text from a book, handout, or other document; the software uses optical character recognition and text-to-speech to enable a student to hear the words read aloud -- or read along with the highlighted words displayed onscreen.
GW Micro's Window-Eyes converts components of Windows operating systems and applications into synthetic speech to make them more accessible to blind and visually impaired PC users.
The screen reader has always trailed Freedom Scientific's JAWS in popularity. But a recent Microsoft alliance making the $895 program free to MS Office 2010 licensees may be a game-changer.
Window-Eyes is thought to be more intuitive than its competitors in giving users more control over what they hear and when. The program integrates with most Windows applications out of the box and thus requires little or no configuration or having to learn additional keystrokes.
It's a bold move -- though in keeping with accessibility's evolution from specialized add-on to built-in feature.
This Sunday marks the 185th anniversary of Perkins, the first American school for children who are blind. Since its 1829 opening in Watertown, Massachusetts, Perkins has become global leader in blind education, serving nearly 1 million students in 67 countries.
Here's a quick historical index of notables and their Perkins connection:
- Student: Laura Bridgman, world's first formally educated deafblind individual, 1837
- Visitor: Charles Dickens, 1842
- Relative: Julia Ward Howe ("Battle Hymn of the Republic"), wife of founder, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe
- Rejected Job Applicant: Henry David Thoreau
- Alumnus: Anne Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller, 1886
- Volunteer: Amelia Earhart, aviator
- Career Launched: Ellis Hall, blues musician
- Fired Employee: Joan Baez (she went barefoot)
- Current Employee: Marla Runyan, first visually impaired Olympian (teacher, spokesperson).
In 2011, Perkins launched the Grousbeck Center for Students & Technology, a focal point of professional training, community connection, and innovation. The school also sponsors the annual Perkins Assistive Technology Prize.
If a visually impaired app user can customize their iOS keypad, you might think they'd select the biggest possible keys.
"It turns out many of the low vision and blind users had best success with very small, very close keyboards and a tiny cursor for more responsive audio navigation feedback." says Gross.
Listening for VoiceOver to call out keys removes the difficulty of seeing to press the right ones. Blind users also liked the app's "hover" voice, a secondary voice to distinguish key location from final selection.
Gross said some low-vision users did prefer large, high-contrast keys. RocketKeys provides 3 color schemes with 3 additional contrast variations available through "Invert Colors," an iPad accessibility setting. Adjusting cursor size and "opacity" helped, too, Gross says.
RocketKeys provides a range of keyboard options, including the standard layout, alphabetical, and a specially created one called Optimus, designed for typing with the fewest possible hand movements.
The Sioux Falls, SD-based company emphasizes ease-of-use low-tech solutions for students, teachers, and therapists.
One of its signature products is Tangible Object Cards, which present words and pictures pairing objects that are easy to recognize and distinguish between.
Objects are securely fastened to durable 5"x7" plastic cards. Each comes with a removable blank 2" x 3 1/2" card for inserting your own communication symbol or picture.
Tangible Object Cards are sold in a core set of 20 with 6 supplemental 5-card sets. Tangible symbols have shown to provide effective communication intervention for persons with autism, visual impairment, deaf/blindness, and developmental disabilities.
Special attention was given to the tactile needs of low-vision individuals.
The Quest ($1,299) from En-Vision America uses text-to-speech and digital voice recording and provides access to an on-board database of 3 million+ product descriptions.
With i.d. mate Quest, users can quickly record additional information to existing products and search online for items not found in the database.
The Quest also provides additional bar code labels for users can affix to any product or household item for later audio reference.
Wireless Internet connectivity and a built-in camera offer further methods for recognizing objects, including document reading, currency identification, Skype video conferencing, and access to online databases.
Matching certified braille instructors with blind students has always been a challenge. Usually, an itinerant teacher covers a wide area, driving to teach one braille student at several different schools.
New technology may soon enable schools to save money on teacher time and travel.
In addition to keyboard mirroring, BERT also facilitates real time communication by voice for one-on-one intimacy.
Teachers can review homework and post grades. Students can practice braille on their own.
It's not a cheap setup. The Cosmo Braille Writer, Student Agent software, and Duxbury Braille Translator cost $4,385, with Teacher Agent software still to buy.
Any technology that can bolster braille literacy is a welcome sight. It remains to be seen how effective remote learning can be, or what parts of the teaching process it can replace.
In fact, ViA stands for "Visually Impaired Apps."
It's a free App Store download, runs on iOS devices, and is a great companion resource for the AppleVis online community.
ViA is very easy to use: you can search by category, price, or star rating; each entry includes links for downloading and sharing, as well as images, reviews, and customer comments.
The apps are divided into nine categories: Accessibility, Communication, Education, Entertainment, Fitness & Health, Navigation & Mobility, News & Weather, Productivity & Life Management, and Reading, Writing, & Notetaking.
The app is a convenient way for iOS users who are blind to find and share information on vision-related and accessibility apps.
People who are blind or visually impaired can download hundreds of federal tax forms and publications on the Accessibility page on the IRS website.
Formats include e-braille, accessible PDFs, and HTML one can read using a screen reader or refreshable braille display.
You can learn about IRS products and services for persons with disabilities on this 2-minute YouTube video.