Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Switches and Scanning

The following is brought to you by:
Judy Nahman-StoufferAssistive Technology Educational SpecialistProjects Coordinator
When an individual cannot operate a mouse to access the computer, there is assistive technology to help them. If they can move any part of their body, a SWITCH and SCANNING can help them open a program, use the menu, surf the internet and type.Switches: Devices that enable the user to direct computer operations by means of a single action—such as a tap of a finger (or a toe).Scanning: A colored marker moves across the choices in a pattern. The individual hits the switch when the marker is at the selection they want to choose.Try virtual scanning yourself:University of Washington, Dept. of Speech & Hearing Sciences
Come to EmpowerTech for Open Access Wednesdays 3:30-6pm to actually try a switch and scanning.Come to OATS (Open Access Training Session) April 29th and May 27th

Friday, April 17, 2009

Posted by Tom, the Tech Guy: MathDaisy Release 1.0 Announced

The following announcement comes from Neil Soiffer, Senior Scientist at Design Science, Inc.

We at Design Science are happy to announce the release of our newest product, MathDaisy. Many educational institutions now require teachers, instructors, and professors to make classroom materials accessible to students with disabilities. MathDaisy makes it possible to save Microsoft Word documents containing equations as a DAISY book that can be read by students on a personal computer or a dedicated eBook reader. The press release has been published on our website at

Our hope is that MathDaisy together with Word's Save as DAISY makes it easy enough to publish DAISY "books" with math in them that anyone can, and more importantly, will create accessible material to give to their students, colleagues, etc.

Neil Soiffer
Senior Scientist
Design Science, Inc.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Congratulations, Carrie!

Congratulations go out today to Carrie, a recent graduate of EmpowerTech’s Blind/Low Vision Computer Training Program who completed her training as of March 31, 2009.
Carrie came to EmpowerTech in the latter half of 2008, from a blue-collar background with jobs including, among other things, sheet metal work in shipyards. Her vision loss began in 2003 as the result of myopathy related to multiple sclerosis and culminated in complete blindness in 2007. After hearing about assistive technology for the blind, specifically the JAWS for Windows screen reader, she recognized the potential for computers to enable her to pursue postsecondary vocational training. After a brief stint at the Davidson Program for Independence (DPI) at Junior Blind of America, she came to EmpowerTech and set about learning JAWS, becoming computer-literate and mastering the essentials of Microsoft Word, Excel, e-mail with Microsoft Outlook and use of the Internet. She was hard-working, diligent and focused, showing good initiative in a number of areas. Where Excel can send even sighted people running from the room with an attack of the screaming heeby-jeebies, Carrie not only finished the Excel component of the program well ahead of her classmates, she took on extra projects of her own design, even reveling in it. She quickly realized the liberating potential of the Internet in terms of enhancing her personal independence and productivity and, at the first indications that she was ready, began online banking and one of her favorite activities: shopping.
It's easy for many people, even those without any sort of disability, to go through life looking only after themselves, doggedly pursuing their particular goals and personal agendas with little regard for others. Despite her two significant physical issues, multiple sclerosis and resulting blindness, Carrie went about her business with a quiet strength, determination, dignity and grace. Fueled by a desire to be the best that she could be, both for herself and for others, she acted as a mentor to classmates in need, explaining and helping them to understand difficult concepts or methods of doing things when instructors were unavailable to provide assistance. Not only did this provide welcome relief for the instructors at times, but it also fostered a sense of teamwork which proved beneficial to all involved.
Now that Carrie has completed the training program, she has immediately set new goals for herself. Her first goal is to master reading and writing Braille. At a time when only 10 percent of the blind population chooses to learn Braille, this is a laudable undertaking that, if achieved, will pay massive dividends to her in terms of literacy, personal productivity and the joy of the simple pleasure of leisure reading.
Secondly, unlike many blind people who feel compelled to pursue training for the "job du jour" promoted by many rehabilitation agencies throughout the country, Carrie wants to undertake vocational training that's in line with one of her passions: cooking or baking. Toward that end, she plans to enroll in culinary arts courses next fall at a local school.
We congratulate Carrie on her graduation, extend heartfelt thanks to her for all that she has done for her fellow classmates, and we wish her every success in all of her future endeavors.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zoomtext Version 9.18 Released

AI Squared, makers of the Zoomtext Magnifier and Zoomtext Magnifier/Reader, have announced the release of Zoomtext version 9.18. Highlights of this new release include a major tune-up that provides improved performance across the board, a cool new feature called Smooth Panning (patent pending) that allows you to comfortably navigate your applications without all that abrupt jumping around in the magnified view, Zoomtext scripting support for all Zoomtext licenses, and support for Windows Vista 64-bit Edition.

Already own ZoomText 9.1? If so, just go to to download the free update!

Still using ZoomText 9.0 or earlier? No problem. Low cost upgrades start at just $75 for ZoomText Magnifier and $99 for ZoomText Magnifier/Reader. To place your order, call your local Zoomtext distributor or Ai Squared toll-free at (800) 859-0270.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Congratulations, Cheryl!

Congratulations are in order for Cheryl, who completed the Blind/Low Vision training program at EmpowerTech as of March 31, 2009.

Cheryl came to EmpowerTech in the latter part of 2008. Before losing most of her vision due to diabetic retinopathy, she had been employed as a data entry clerk, with additional light clerical and phone receptionist responsibilities. After becoming aware of assistive technology, she sought training first at Braille Institute, moved on to the Davidson Program for Independence (DPI) at Junior Blind of America, and came to EmpowerTech for additional up-to-date training in the use of the Zoomtext screen magnifier and Microsoft Office applications. Prior experience with Windows-based computers served her well, for it wasn't long before she quickly mastered the essentials of the Zoomtext screen magnifier and a keyboard-based approach to computer navigation. Her touch typing skills, which were good at the start of the program, became formidable and, as a fellow student once described, “absolutely awe-inspiring”. Like many of EmpowerTech's better students, she was
hard-working, diligent and focused, showing unusual initiative by going beyond the scope of the program's curriculum to explore more esoteric aspects of Word and Excel. She quickly realized the potential of computers and the Internet to free herself from the drudgery of performing a number of personal day-to-day paber-based tasks with only a magnifying glass and embraced the convenience and benefits of such things as online shopping and banking.
Though she has some apprehension about trying to rejoin the work force in today's tough economic climate, she's eager to go back to work as a customer service representative or receptionist/clerk with her newly-acquired skills. We applaud her efforts in this regard and wish her every success in all of her future endeavors.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Joan's Personal Thank You

The first letter that any new Executive Director writes is always the hardest. The reasons are many: will they like my writing style without placing too much emphasis on the grammatical, will my words convey what I want to express without upsetting anyone, and will they even read my words. Here’s what I think, words matter. I think that we are as a nation fumbling for the language of the current times, but I have the perfect two little words. Thank You. If I were asked last year about becoming the leader of a team of assistive technology professionals my first word would be, what? I had no idea what assistive technology was. But I do now. And for this I say thank you to my team. Thank you Ally, for taking a chance with me and seeing what I saw in our student’s eyes, what an amazing development department we now have. Thank you Judy, for your passion, your strength to set out into our community with your lessons; touching not only our preschoolers every day but their parents as well. Thank you Eric for your endurance, patience and familiarity with your students that you see every day during TRADE, you have taught not only them but me as well. Thank you Bruce and Tom for always amazing me that even without full eyesight you have taught your students through touch to see the world differently, completely. Thank you Melody, for your guidance that you give our preschool students through your body language, I have learned much through shadowing you, I have never met anyone who can teach so well without words. Thank you, Chris for accepting a new challenge and jumping in so quickly to our daily routine, the students have taken to you very quickly. Thank you Joanne, for your knowledge, your compassion, being the overall keeper of the mission of EmpowerTech, it is true without you my words would not be on the page right now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2008 EmpowerTech DVD

Thanks for to generosity of the Ahmanson Foundation we were able to have our first professionally produced DVD.

Clip from Tom's Interview With Luke Ford...Does Blindness Enhance other Senses?

[Luke Ford]One question for publication:

I had this sense during our interview that your blindness enables you to see people, in some ways, more clearly than the sighted. That your blindness enhances many of your other senses. Is this true?

[Tom Lange]

It's interesting that you would say that. Perhaps that's because it seemed that I was more tuned in to you as we were talking and not distracted by the visual. It is a common misconception that blind people's remaining senses are innately sharper and that some blind people have some sort of "sixth sense". The latter, in my view, is somewhat ludicrous. It is true, that our remaining senses can and do become sharper, but they aren't innately so. Rather, they become that way out of necessity. In other words, whenvision decreases or is lost altogether, there's no physiological "magic switch" that is thrown which immediately cranks up the other senses into overdrive. Instead, touch, hearing and smell become heightened because we use them more to gather clues about our environment. There are, however, physiological aspects to this that become apparent over time. Laboratory studies now show that when the visual cortex of the brain becomes idle following vision loss at an early age, the brain will, over time in effect "rewire itself", so that the visuall cortex, or portions of it, may be assigned the task of auditory processing to supplement the capabilities of the existing auditory centers. If vision is restored later in life, as was the case with Michael May, the person will be ill-equipped to process visual images and may in fact have to "learn to see" all over again, with varying degrees of success.
Interesting, eh?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The latest incremental upgrade to JAWS for Windows version 10 from Freedom Scientific features a 64-bit version of the screen reader as well as the ability to specify which sound card will be used for JAWS speech if you are using more than one on your system.
Humanware has announced two handheld electronic
magnifiers. the Smartview Versa has a 4.3-inch screen, 5-15x magnification and a rechargeable battery. The Smartview Versa+ has
all that and also plays music, shows videos and has an sd-card slot for storing material.
Humanware has announced Orator, a screen reader for the Blackberry Smartphone.
Humanware has also announced the new release of Victor Reader Stream, version 3 and the Stream Companion Software, with a new look. The new Stream, now available for download, allows you to search for text in text-based documents, has improved
navigation and file management, and lets you keep two synthesized voices available on the unit in the English version.
T&T Consultancy Ltd is excited to announce the upcoming release of
Say-Magic, a computing solution intended to provide improved access for individuals with low vision and learning challenges who wish to benefit from the advantages of speech input technology and display management technology. Say-MAGic brings together Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional version 10 from Nuance Communications and version 11 of the MAGic screen-reader/magnifier from Freedom Scientific. While the product integrates these two applications, it also presents the user with an easy to understand interface enabling interaction with the computer using natural language and easy to remember and understand vocabulary.

Web News on Demand Accessable to the Blind by Tom the Tech Guy...

Baltimore, Maryland (March 31, 2009):
NFB-NEWSLINE®, the largest electronic newspaper
service in the world for blind and print-disabled
Americans, is pleased to announce the launch of
Through NFB-NEWSLINE® Online's groundbreaking
features, subscribers can enjoy both an enhanced
experience in reading the news and dramatically
increased flexibility in how they choose to
access their favorite publication's content.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National
Federation of the Blind, said: "The NFB-NEWSLINE®
service was created so that blind people could
benefit from independent access to information on
world news and hometown events in the same way
that our sighted colleagues can. The new
features offered by NFB-NEWSLINE® Online are an
extension of this service's ability to allow
independent and flexible access to news content
by the blind. I am very proud of the increased
choice and convenience that initiatives like Web
News on Demand and NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket
provide to NFB-NEWSLINE® subscribers."