Sunday, November 29, 2015

Making the leap to screen-reading software is a tough step for people losing their vision.

I am one of those people.

My job for the last few years has been to train people in screen-magnification software, the Windows environment, and the Office Suite. Very gratifying to see people gain confidence in their abilities.

This past year it's been my good fortune to learn to use JAWs from Freedom Scientific and train two students.  On any given day, teaching the Windows platform can be very humbling because of computer glitches, anomalies, and student challenges.

One nice discovery is that JAWs is more manageable than I once thought.

Teaching screen-reading software with the Internet will be the big test because it will require patience on the student's part. Why? 1) It's all audio, and 2) the software reads the structure and content in a linear manner. Screen-reading software can drive you mad with too much information.

To approach a website, the user arrows down through every bloody link, header, form, text, and table to evaluate the quickest way to the desired content or field. To just blunder your way through could take even longer. (Pass the Valium.)

Today I'm thankful that smart people are developing affordable software such as NVDA. This week I will see if this open-source option handles busy sites as well as JAWs. We use news sites, Orbitz, Google Maps, job posting sites, and Linkedin to prepare our students for school and career.

I'm thankful that web accessibility is gaining more attention because it will benefit EVERYONE. We've got such a long, long way to go in social media and corporate career sites.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Overview on Accessible OCR Scanning

OCR technology (Optical Character Recognition) converts an image of text to editable text and is a huge benefit for people who are blind. People use OCR to scan and read mail, product descriptions, books, school reports, etc.

For a desktop PC, a flatbed scanner and a software program called OpenBook work great. OpenBook is accessible for screen-reading software, but costs about $1,000.

A portable alternative to using a flatbed scanner is the Pearl Camera from Freedom Scientific that works with OpenBook. The Pearl costs $795.

All scanners have a tough time with curved surfaces like the binding of a book. One option best suited for book scanning is the OpticBook Scanner (Book edge scanner).

On the desktop Mac, you can use the Prizmo 3 app for $49.95 with a flatbed scanner.

Other options include ABBYY FineReader for Pro $199.99 and Express for $69.

Evernote on the MAC can be used for OCR scanning, but involves syncing to a server and waiting in queue.

Tablets and smart phones offer more affordable options.

People rave about the KNFB Reader app for a couple reasons. Normally this app costs $99, but sometimes goes on sale for $49.

The view finder option tells you about how much of the page you have in view, so you know whether you need to raise your phone higher.

The next best app for a tablet or smart phone is the Prizmo app for about $20. It does not give you as much information as the KNFB Reader, but does a good job.

Stability is an issue when scanning documents with a smart phone or tablet.

ScanJig Pro is a portable plastic stand that offers stability as you use your smart phone or tablet to scan documents.  ScanJig Pro costs $40 at Amazon. You can probably get it for less at

Amazon has a photo so people with usable vision can see how ScanJig holds the document and the device.

Thank you to the Washington Council of the Blind and Deb Lewis from the University of Washington  for the lively discussion on our February Assistive Technology forum.