Blind Bargains

What J.J. Wants for Christmas

The holidays will certainly bring us lots of presents and tidings of comfort and joy. But in the spirit of Christmas and dreaming big, there are some things Iíd love to see from companies and groups serving the blind and visually impaired. So, I present to you my Christmas wish list.

A Book Player with WiFi. The BookSense has raised the bar for portable audio players, supporting a wider range of formats than ever before. This has also led to improvements from the Victor Stream and Plextalk Pocket, offering more opportunities than ever for portable media listening. The next natural evolution for these devices is to include wireless support. Imagine a player with the ability to download NFB Newsline content automatically every morning for you to listen to it on your morning commute. This seems like a logical extension of the current available options, and should be possible with current technology.

A Permanent Solution for CAPTCHA. Web-Visum and Solona have certainly given the ability to navigate through those annoying CAPTCHA verification challenges to many users. But these solutions are often browser or operating-system dependant. While it is important for assistive technology companies to innovate and create solutions to solve accessibility problems, CAPTCHAs are a crippling device which leaves too many website users out in the cold. They often prevent users from shopping, posting on blogs, or signing up for websites. Again, technology should allow for a solution which is satisfying to all involved.

Companies keeping promises. I donít have a problem with a company teasing a new product, despite some of the recent ridiculous methods used (Iím looking at you Code Factory and Humanware). But weíve been hearing about cell phone access for Blackberry users for years now, and an official announcement of Orator was made back in March. The Orator website still just says the product will be available soon, though apparently the definition of soon has been lost.

Enough with the lawsuits, already. Iím certainly not the first to display my puzzlement and confusion over the wave of lawsuits seen over the past couple of years. And while itís easy to jump down Freedom Scientificís throat, theyíre not the only ones. AT&T, Verizon, Monster Cable, and others are just a few of the companies who often let lawsuits get in the way of their primary activities. Perhaps I donít understand the legal system and the need to protect a trademark, but I would think that a company would want to be known for its products, not its litigation.

Finally, I wish for all of you to have a Merry Christmas and an excellent rest of 2009. Please enjoy the holidays with your friends and families, and be safe.

J.J. Meddaugh is a features writer for

Category: Articles
Displaying 14 comments.
jcast Friday, 18-Dec-2009 11:13 AM ET:

Here, here! :)

Jeff.young Friday, 18-Dec-2009 11:14 AM ET:

You could argue that the iCon/braille plus is a wifi enabled book reader, but because of the price and its many other features; I don't think I would take that step. In reference to the blackberry; lower the price on orator. The screen reader will cost nearly as much as the phone. That is, if it is ever released.

Rick Roderick Friday, 18-Dec-2009 12:17 PM ET:

I have been hearing for years about the possibility of an affordable braille display, but where is it? A few years, Peter Duran announced an upcoming full-page display. I hear about research on new technologies that should make paperless braille cheaper, but nothing ever comes of it. Yet, I never hear why these ideas get bogged. I would like a cheaper braille display in time for next Christmas.

0 Friday, 18-Dec-2009 12:59 PM ET:

I can already download books and Newsline newspapers directly into my portable book player. I have a Braille+ with wifi. I definitely recommend it. It runs elequence which makes it more enjoyable to listen to than a VR Stream. IM O anyway. The Braille+ is more expensive than a BookSense or VR Stream, but far less expensive than a Braille Note, Braille Sense or Packmate. Even if one buys a Braille display for it. I completely agree with JJ about the Blackberry delays. It's been nearly a year since I saw a CSUN presentation about the upcoming screen reader. I think they were projecting an Aug 09 release then, but I remember the Humanware rep being rather vague when I tried to nail him down to a clear release date. And another group that promised us great things long before they could deliver them is NLS. We're only just now seeing mass circulation of free digital players they promised would be available in Jan of 08. Great article!

lilmike Friday, 18-Dec-2009 1:41 PM ET:

I totally agree. As an audio game designer and programmer (well, sort of), I understand where your coming from. Rest assured mtgames will always keep their promises whenever possible! -Michael.

daronoff Friday, 18-Dec-2009 3:29 PM ET:

This was a very informative article, especially the captcha part. I really hate signing up at a website and then being asked to "enter the letters in the box, type the words in the picture, etc.". Thanks so much!

Kblackbn Friday, 18-Dec-2009 6:01 PM ET:

How about an accessible DVD player, an accessible TV cable box/DVR, and a la carte pricing for TV cable service?

darknexus Friday, 18-Dec-2009 6:46 PM ET:

My holiday wishlist for Access Technology: 1. AT companies, please stop spreading misinformation. I'm looking at both the AT companies such as Freedom Scientific and the various blind organizations and their publications. Present the information about each product as it is, and trust that I know enough to research and make the decision based on my needs and not what you think my needs are. Misinformation, to my mind, only decreases the credibility of those who spread it especially if done intentionally. 2. NLS, please get off your high horse and stop forcing us to purchase these expensive, and highly limited, book players. I'm probably the only one, but I refuse to sign up for NLS until they do and if that means I never sign up then so be it. I have an iPhone which blows the water out of any of the portable book players and was cheaper to boot, and it's not as if they'd have to expose their content externally. They could make it all into an app for these devices. Mainstream accessibility all the way, and the hidebound attitudes of NLS and their ilk do nothing but hold us back. There are no two ways around it, mainstream or no mainstream. Pick one, eventually we all have to. 3. The author's guild to shut up and allow us to read books on portable devices, though I now have a way around this one which I'll explain below. Still, it's the principal of the thing that matters, and they have no right to refuse us access. 4. Agreed 100% on the captcha and law suit bits. I forget which web site had this, but they had a parody of the Freedom Scientific logo with the slogan: "Innovate, don't litigate." I wish I could remember where I saw that, but it sums up my feelings perfectly. It's funny how the law suits we really might need get left out in the cold, *cough* Author's Guild *cough*. And now for a possible holiday present for some people: For anyone who is looking for a way to buy and read books just like everyone else, if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch take a look at the Kobo app. It's similar in idea to the Amazon Kindle (though focused on having the software rather than a specific device), but the book's content for both paid and free books is completely accessible to Voiceover on these devices. They have a nice selection and it's growing, it's not as big as the Kindle yet but it's pretty close.

Blindknitter Friday, 18-Dec-2009 10:53 PM ET:

I too would like to see the book sense support a wireless internet connection, as well as a calendar for scheduling appointments and a calculator. The Ipod touch has all of that why not the book sense. Here's to hoping the latest updates to book sense hint at possible future greatness. Another thing is to make cell phones that are accessible an affordable option for everyone, I'm not talking just a little accessible but entirely accessible out of the box. If sighted people didn't have totally accessible phones straight out of the package you bet the bitching would be loud enough to make Washington change laws.

darknexus Saturday, 19-Dec-2009 07:28 AM ET:

Don't we already have a 100% accessible out-of-the box phone in the latest iPhone 3GS? It certainly fits my definition of being fully accessible. That being said, I'd love to see more options in this area, as competition can only help make each product better. I, personally, really like the iPhone but a touch screen isn't for everyone, and having more phones accessible out of the box would be awesome (not talking about the LG-style of half-access either). Here's hoping Motorola's hinted-at accessibility efforts produce something more akin to the iPhone's accessibility than LG's idea of it.

Blindknitter Saturday, 19-Dec-2009 11:49 AM ET:

yea touch screen isn't for everyone. You are right about the Iphone though it is totally accessible or so I have been told.

bookworm1 Saturday, 19-Dec-2009 12:31 PM ET:

The IPhone would be truly accessible if it were supported by more carriers. I'd hate to have to switch my carrier just for the chance to experience an accessible phone. As for capchas, it would be great to see something similar to web vism built into jfw or window eyes. It's not rocket science, after all!

Jeff.young Monday, 21-Dec-2009 3:40 PM ET:

Yes, I here the iphone is great. But, still, their isn't a totally accessible mainstream regular old cell phone out their. I'd love an iphone, but that's $30 a month I don't have. So hopefully something affordable and somewhat basic will come next year.

MGD4Ever Wednesday, 23-Dec-2009 1:20 PM ET:

I could not agree more with the commenter who wishes for accessible DVD players and DVR boxes. We have two DVR's in our house -- full of recorded shows that I'd love to watch on my own, but I can't because the interface is completely visual.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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