Friday, December 18, 2009

Luxury Or Necessity?

Having the Intel Reader at my disposal for several weeks did feel like a little luxury. Passing it on to a colleague yesterday definitely stirred up some separation anxiety.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ease it brought back to recipe reading, and the angst it took away from the mail and the (dreaded) form. I used it as my own private teleprompter, to practice and give prompts, for a speech. I used it for reading printed documents, on a daily basis; I actually cleaned up the piles of paper I wanted to read, but had not quite figured out how – until now.

The Intel Reader passed two of my critical technology tests. It helped me feel like I could read anything, and it made me feel good about doing it. It also passed my usability test, with flying colors, which means: if I can operate this device…anyone can.

I, like Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, got better at Intel Reading each day. I originally thought I would be flipping through the pages of Vogue and the New Yorker, but this was not as easy as it looked. There were some articles that I photographed again and again, before I got a readable shot. Newspapers were equally as difficult, clearly a skill to be acquired over time.

I did take a few books off the shelf and read excerpts from a couple of them, once read by my eyes. This, for some reason, I excelled at; however, it also gave me a real appreciation for the Capture Station, an accessory available with the Intel Reader, for photographing entire books (without breaking them apart).

So now I will decide which category does the Intel Reader belong: luxury or necessity? At $1,500, and in the month of December, it can only come from one place…Santa, are you listening?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Intel Reader Takes Form

I like my font big and bold (about 2 inches high) and at eye level; in this format I can read just about anything. Well, then again, I could not exactly call this reading. Let’s say, in this format, I could identify one word at a time, slowly. For me, “listening” is the new “reading.” It is far more enjoyable and, definitely, more efficient to hear printed words spoken, than to undergo the arduous process of deciphering words, which sometimes appear to be moving or broken. It can be like reading a book under water.

A few days ago, a former colleague asked if I would write a recommendation for grad school. I was happy to do it until she handed me the (dreaded) form. I am not fond of forms, especially the instructions about how to fill out the form. So I decided to take a picture of it with the Intel Reader and have it read me the instructions, where I learned that I could answer the questions on a separate page. I listened to each question and answered it in a word document in my computer, printed it, attached it, and voila, another form bites the dust.

Stay tuned for …Intel Teleprompter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Intel Reader Is My Sous Chef

There are many traits embedded in my DNA. One of my best inheritances is the joy of cooking. My passion for the food experience begins with the thought, the prep, then moves through the process, the aromas, the taste, and ends with a great sense of satisfaction.

The cooking gene was dominant in my father, who passed to me a penchant for turning Sundays into culinary events. He would fill the day with food and football, running in and out of the kitchen, so as never to miss a touchdown or a Hail Mary Pass, while garlic and herbs wafted about the house.

My mother’s genetics in the kitchen were a bit more recessive, but none the less, she instilled in me an early interest in the delicious chemistry of baking cakes and cookies. Instead of giving me a requested Easy Bake Oven at the age of 8, she got me started with my own set of cookbooks, baking the real thing.

My joy appeared to be in jeopardy, when my vision declined below the acuity required for cookbook reading. Of course, I did not put the cookbooks on the shelf without a fight. I tried magnifiers. I tried funky glasses. I typed recipe favorites into my computer and made the font very large. I pulled up recipes on the Internet and ran, back and forth, from kitchen to computer, measuring and mixing, one step at a time. I became very good at memorizing and improvisation but had to cut back on the baking, because the chemistry of sugar with butter and flour with baking soda requires strict adherence to measurement.

Cut to now.

The Intel Reader is my Sous Chef; it photographed a bunch of my favorites like Apple Cheesecake Tart, the best Banana Yogurt Bread on earth, Zebra Shortbread and Chocolate Decadence Cake.

Hearing my recipes, converted to speech by the Intel reader, was like being reborn. It works like a charm…a cup of this, a tablespoon of that. I can stop and start the reading with the push of a button, or go back and review with the push of another. Some recipes are formatted perfectly, while others require a bit of toggling between ingredients and instructions. Sometimes the pronunciation is funny, in which case I look at it in the screen (zoomed to big letters), or listen to the spelling by holding down the “ok” button. I have to admit, sticky fingers may be a potential hazard; remember, the Intel Reader is not dishwasher safe.
I think this is another one of those things that happens to be good for me, but really could be better for everyone. Last week I watched a segment of Martha Stewart and one of her guests was a Wall Street Journal reporter who brought a new digital recipe reader. I watched with intense anticipation, waiting for it to speak, but there was no voice: this ‘reader’ required you to read to yourself. Isn’t that so last year?

Coming next…how I used the Intel Reader with forms and meeting notes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mastering the Mail with Intel Reader

Every day, since I’ve had temporary custody of the Intel Reader, I’ve tackled my daily delivery of mail, with, almost, glee. Truth be known, reading mail was never something I did well, not even with 20 / 20 vision.

It’s one of those embarrassing things: the stigma of severe mail aversion. I know it’s dangerous to say I’m cured, but, for eight consecutive mail days, I’ve identified each piece and dealt with it.

Thanks to the Intel Reader! For me, a little like mail rehab, I photograph the envelope first, then the contents. Works very well on postcards, which I can’t usually even figure out where they’re from. No intense concentration necessary to read a page or two, I just listen to page after page and toss the majority of junk, eliminating the build up of mail.

It is the freedom of speech!

Coming next…the joy of cooking with Intel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Intel® Reader is Friendly

A great benefit of working at the Lighthouse is that I get to try out new items that fall into the category of “vision-friendly technology.” Recently, I had the luxury of borrowing one of the newly released Intel® Readers.

I am pleased to report that I find the Intel Reader is as user-friendly as it claims to be. This, I know, is no small feat, because just about every device I come in contact with makes this same assertion, and way more often than not, I don’t make it past “Step 2” or “3.”

The key to my success…the relative simplicity of good design, along with the quick-start guide built right into the Reader. The user manual is also built in, eliminating the anxiety I usually feel upon encountering an instruction book that I will never be able to read. The buttons are tactile, each unique in its shape and position.

I’m feeling pretty proficient and I know that if I can operate this little machine…anyone can. (In fact, it feels kind of like one of those things you’ve borrowed from a friend but really don’t want to give back.)
Its function and assistive nature have grown on me, and it will be interesting to see what happens when I have to return it. Until then, I am discovering new ways to use it every day, and I am going to share my experiences in coming posts to talk about how the Intel reader works for me. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Freedom of Speech

This week, Intel made a big, bold move, stepping squarely into my world with the launch of the Intel Reader. Frankly, I could not have dreamt up better company, and I applaud their interest in changing the world a little bit by creating a product that just might take the sting out of reading for millions who have difficulty with print due to dyslexia and declining vision.

The mastermind behind the Intel Reader is Ben Foss, a kid from New Hampshire (now 36), who managed his way ― all the way ― to, through and beyond Stanford Law School with severe dyslexia. While reading print, admittedly, was not one of his strengths, strategy clearly was! He knew early on that if he could get all those words past his dyslexia, the rest might be easy.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of participating in a number of press briefings on the Intel Reader, serving as an advocate for people with low vision, as well as sharing my perspective as a person in need of a “reading machine.”

The Intel Reader is coming home with me this weekend ― and we have big plans! First, I’m going to read my mail, which has been piling up. Then, I’ll break open a magazine or two, maybe Vogue first, then The New Yorker. And on Sunday, my plan is to take some of my favorite cookbooks off the shelf and try a new recipe. These things are suddenly possible again because the Intel Reader has a camera that photographs pages of text and converts it to speech. The technical aspects are of little interest to me; I just want to know if it will help me get back to things that I enjoy but have been unable to continue to do with less and less vision.

Everything happens for a reason. I’d like to think that Ben Foss was very successful at overcoming the challenges of dyslexia. And his endeavors may save millions of children and adults the embarrassment of having to say, “Sorry, I can’t read this.” Not to mention the unfortunate misperception that lack of intelligence or illiteracy is to blame.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Your Booming Market Awaits

I met Andy Karp, of the Jobson Optical Group, at LITE 2009 and he graciously extended an invitation to write a guest column for Vision Monday, an online and print publication covering the optical industry. I was delighted to do it and used my 350 words to reconfirm (just in case anyone was wondering) that we (people with low vision) want good looking things, too!

Read my column titled, “Your Booming Market Awaits.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Signs of The Times

The printed newspaper, before long, will be a piece of nostalgia. I understand the desire of some to hang on to their dependence on newsprint, as I was forced to quit some time ago. It was not a habit I particularly wanted to kick, but one of the first things to go with declining vision is the ability to read newsprint – small fonts, bad contrast.

With such difficulty, one might think it best to let go, turn on CNN and be done with it. I tried, but quitting for me proved equally as difficult. It is no surprise that I moved with the herd to The New York Times on the Web, and while a definite improvement, it was still not the news-reading experience I was dreaming of.

Then, just a few months ago, I had, what I consider, a major breakthrough. Having signed up (reluctantly) for daily emails with “Today’s Headlines,” I was delighted to discover that I could scroll through article headlines, synopses, and links to full articles. Once linked, I click on “Print” to get a cleaned-up version of the article, which makes reading much easier with my eyes--or with my computer’s speech, a satisfying experience.

Sounds like a pretty simple solution, and indeed it is. Took me a while, but today I’m feeling it was worth the trip. Especially since so many people I’ve shared this with are switching, happily, to my method of reading, whether they were struggling or not. Good for me, better for everyone. Try it!

I continue to dream of the day I will be able to choose how I read the “paper” online. I will be able to select the font, the contrast, the layout, and I even get to choose the voice in which the paper is read to me, aloud. I know that day is coming!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Share The LIKE

I want to hear from You!

Last week, hundreds of you joined us for LITE 2009, Lighthouse International Technology Expo, showcasing a variety of accessible tech items, designed to make life a little easier, for people with impaired vision.

I, like you, am seeking information, and my best resource, always, is people, passing the word. I have a long list of tips from others, and I always hope to repay the favor, by passing it forward, sharing it with another..

I’ll kick off the sharing with my biggest “LIKE” from LITE 2009 – Universal Access. Wickopedia’s definition: Universal access refers to the ability of all people to have equal opportunity and access to a service or product from which they can benefit... (read more). Certainly not a new concept, but somewhat of an emerging movement in accessible technology, driven by the massive ageing population, which I am delighted to be advantaged by.

This is the stuff my dreams are made of. LITE presentations by Apple and Google representing their passion and commitment to Universal Access. Their success proven by the fact that I use many of their products every day; iPod, iPhone, Google Accessible Web Search, Gmail, Blogger, Goog411.

Now it’s your turn to “share the like.”

What did you like at LITE?

Did you find what you were looking for?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LITE 2009

Lighthouse International Technology Expo 2009

The day we've all been waiting for is almost here! Join us on Thursday, September 17, from 9:30am -- 4:30pm for LITE: a FREE technology expo showcasing assistive and everyday accessible technologies that make life easier for people with vision loss.

Throughout the day, see demonstrations, ask questions and get the latest information from more than 25 exhibitors showcasing their products and services. Visit for a full list of vendors.

And don't forget to RSVP for one (or all) of our exciting seminars, including:

11:30 am Apple Innovations in Accessibility
1:30 pm Google's Accessible Solutions
3:00 pm Jitterbug's Simple Approach

All seminars are completely free, but sign up early, last year's events were crowded! To RSVP, or for more information on each of the seminars, visit
See you Thursday!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goog-411 Will Set You Free

I lean heavily on 411. I use 411 information not only for the obvious telephone number searches, but also as my own (backup) navigation tool. For instance, if I am trying to find a store or restaurant in a location unfamiliar to me, I will call my destination ahead via 411 direct dial and ask for specifics like side of street, how many buildings from corner, color of awning, what is next door? With the push of a button and a few clearly spoken words, I can find the nearest Starbucks, or talking ATM at Bank of America. It’s my own version of the “easy button.”

Everyone needs 411 from time to time, and at a rate of $2 per call, just one call a day can double your cell phone bill for the month. If your vision impairment is significant, you may qualify for a 411 exemption with Verizon or AT&T (documentation required).
Or anyone can use 800-GOOG-411, Google’s free 411 business directory. It’s simple and I find the results better than the ones you pay for. Remember, GOOG-411 provides business listings and you can search by name or category. Program it to your speed dial: 800-466-4411.
Come on, get yourself free!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The iPhone Cometh

A few days ago, I became the proud owner and user of the iPhone 3GS. I walked into Apple Fifth Avenue and asked a specialist to show me the iPhone’s new features like VoiceOver and Voice Control, which enable access to the screen without seeing it. I was introduced to Ian, a personal shopper, who knew of these upgrades to the iPhone but had not experienced them himself -- until now. He enthusiastically grabbed a phone. We were then joined by Gilbert, an Apple specialist, and we let the festivities begin!

With the push of one external button and a voice command or two, dialing calls and getting music was ours for the asking. Then VoiceOver was turned on, and at the tip of my fingers was the reality of audible access that I only dreamed could be this good. We all burst into big, big smiles, again proving my point: Good for me, better for everyone!

Now I’m on the iPhone learning curve (which, incidentally, everyone must go through). Rhythm is required. It’s a little like learning to dance: one click to hear what button you’re on, and two clicks to activate it…one, two-three…one, two- three…now you’re dancing! I’m learning one step at a time. First, I’ll master the waltz: sending, receiving calls, retrieving voicemail and managing contacts. Then I’ll learn to tango: texting (a first for me), music, e-mail, photos, videos, recordings. Then, I’ll conquer the world -- I’m sure there’s an app for that!

I’m still smiling.

Let me tell you again. I walked into an Apple store and bought the iPhone 3GS, the same phone that everyone buys. In the same store. And at the same price. No extra charge for the special features I need, they’re built in for everyone. Never thought being like everyone else could be so good.

For this, I give Apple a standing ovation!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Three Steps To A Smarter Phone

There are smart phones (with email, Internet capability), and there are phones that are not smart --- shall we call them dumb? It’s never too late to help your dumb phone get a little smarter.

You may be able to set these features in your phone, but I suggest opting for the easy method, go to the tech desk at your local Verizon Wireless store (or the carrier of your choice), or make an appointment with a “Device Specialist” at a Verizon location, and ask to activate the features (listed below) in your cell phone. It makes a huge difference to ease of use, especially when you cannot see what’s on the screen.

1. Caller ID and Menu Readout:
announces incoming calls, menu names

2. Voice Commands: ask phone to dial contact by name, get messages, get time/date

3. Largest Font, Highest Contrast & Brightness: make screen text readable

My experience has been at Verizon, but I know you can get the same "smarts" at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile. Go ahead, ask.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Listen To Me

It’s no secret that I love technology that speaks. For me, audible access is the last word. It is, after all, the problem-solver in the evolution of accessible everyday things. A few excellent examples: Talking ATMs, the iPod Nano with spoken menus and the Shuffle’s voice over. I applaud these big moves, and I anxiously await more to come.

At the top of my (soon to be published) Wish List is audible access on the web. Yes, that’s correct. I want websites to talk to me (and you). Why not? Wouldn’t you like the option to listen while the webpage is read to you?

I know how good this could be, because I get a taste of it now using ZoomText speech. Unfortunately, it is not consistent. Way too often, I will ask ZoomText to read a webpage, and it refuses, without explanation.

My wish is, now, your command. Thanks to Odiogo you can experience the beauty of speech, right on this blog. Just click the “Listen Now” button at the top and enjoy!

I’ll say it again--vision- friendly technology is good for everyone!

Thanks for listening --- now talk to me. Do you like this web option as much as I do?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Google Made Even Easier

“Accessible” means: “easy to deal with.” As if Google was not already easy, Google’s Accessible Search (I kid you not) is even easier.

Before I discovered “Google Accessible Web Search, web searching was an activity I seriously considered giving up altogether because I seemed to often end up in a mess of links that led to pages I had tremendous difficulty reading.

Google Labs Accessible Web Search for the Visually Impaired (to some degree, that’s about half the US population, isn’t it?) delivers clean, uncluttered search results that are easy to read, no sponsored links, and pages are ordered by site accessibility (easiest to deal with first).

I know it’s great for me, and having converted many to Google Accessible Search users, I think it could be better for everyone.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Kindle Too?

So much comment is swirling around Amazon’s Kindle 2, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s all good (yes even the bad). Let’s face it – everyone is talking about it – everyone is aware of the Kindle 2! It’s brilliant.

The controversy stirred by the text-to-speech (tts) feature, which was to allow the Kindle 2 to read any ebook “aloud,” is good, too! It put this topic right out front. It seemed to peak when Roy Blount, the President of the Authors Guild, wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times in defense of authors getting their fair share of the audio rights being infringed upon by the Kindle’s computerized voice. Amazon agreed to only activate the speech feature when authorized by the publisher.

I remain delighted and excited by the Kindle 2 and the literary experiences it can open to me (and to many millions).

With badly impaired central vision, my reading options have been drastically curtailed over the last few years. I am one of the people using “the software” Mr. Blount referred to, a program called ZoomText, which gives me the choice of magnifying print or having it read aloud. In fact, without it, his NY Times Opinion piece would not have been accessible at all to me. Even still, it would not be my favorite way of reading books.

I am an avid reader (buyer) of audio books. Although I revel in the thought and the reality of text turning to speech electronically, I would never choose a “tts” reader over the voice of the author or that of the professional reader. The voice of the reader can change everything for better, and sometimes not.

While I am quite fond of the voice in my computer, and the voice in my iPod, there are inevitably pronunciation errors, pregnant pauses, and instances where it just refuses to read a word entirely. At times, the lack of intonation and inflection becomes mind-numbing. Far from perfect and I dare say no competition for a human being.

Text-to-speech in the Kindle would solve a problem I’m facing right this minute; a couple of books I must read that are not available in audio version. I’ve attempted to convert “The Huffington Post Complete guide to Blogging” from “tts” with the KNFB Mobile Reader – one tortuous page at a time – I do not recommend it. Also, tried to read it under my video magnifier with print enlarged by 10x, so arduous and laborious that comprehension is extremely diminished. Both exercises left me longing for the mellifluous, Greek-accented voice of Arianna Huffington.
Have no fear, Authors Guild, computerized speech is simply an alternative that technology affords us, they will never replace humans in the business of audio book reading.

How are you reading? What are your thoughts on the Kindle 2?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Giving Credit To The Bank

Giving Credit to the Bank

On my way to work this morning, I stopped at the ATM machine and checked my balance, moved money between accounts, and got cash. So, what’s the big deal, millions of people do this every day; it’s just that I was not one of them, until I discovered Talking ATM’s at Bank of America.

I’d been dreaming of ATM’s that talked, because banking on the fly was out of the question. I could go, only, to the ATM at my (former) bank, push the buttons (as committed to memory), and pray that the machine would spit my requested currency out. Success was like hitting the jackpot!

Then, my dream came true. I learned that most ATM’s today are built to speak, some just are never given a voice. I was shown to the precious earphone jack, at the right of the keypad. Plugged my iPod earphones into the ATM and experienced euphoria!

It was so good, I couldn’t stop. Some mornings, I’d drop in at four or five banks on my way to work…looking for the earphone jack, seeing if they all would talk to me. I was rolling in cash, and racking up the ATM fees (a small price for freedom!).

The conclusion of my ATM Listening Tour: Bank of America, hands down the best in accessibility. (You know, accessibility is one of my favorite words, meaning easy to deal with.) ‘B of A’ definitely does that, and they even call it “Accessible Banking.” Their ATM’s were so consistently good, and their “red” Banking Centers, so easy to find; I, without hesitation, became a Bank of America customer.

I am, certainly, no Talking ATM expert, but an enthusiastic advocate, who recommends everyone give it a whirl. I think you’ll like it. I’ve heard Wells Fargo (now also Wachovia) does a good job. HSBC has the jacks, but, so far, no freedom of speech. People have told me that Chase has talkers, but they, for some reason, will not speak to me.

Go, take your ear buds, and try it. If it’s not available at your bank, ask why? By now they should all have voice, don’t you agree?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Simply Jitterbug

On more than one occasion, I have overheard a frustrated customer in a cell phone store asking for “an uncomplicated phone for sending and receiving calls, that’s all, no cameras, no music, just calls!” Well, have I got a phone for you! the Jitterbug cell phone was designed for simplicity and marketed to baby boomers (and their parents). I am told constantly how simple some electronic or tech device is to use – nine out of ten times, it’s not true. The Jitterbug’s simplicity, however, I can vouch for. This is a phone that really takes the angst out. This phone does come with a little something extra. Imagine calling the Jitterbug Operator for help in setting up your phone book and learning how to use the phone. No need to read pages and pages of a user’s manual to figure out the obvious, because all the features are obvious. The keypad is high contrast and very tactile. Voice dialing as easy as it gets. The screen is big and bright, and the phone book comes up in large, clean type. We’re not at all surprised that the Jitterbug is great for people who are visually impaired because that darling Jitterbug Operator is always standing by to get you where you want to go, with just the push of the O. This is a concept that I am wild about, wish I had a Jitterbug Operator for everything, don’t you? Jitterbug is not carried by any of the usual suspects; its service provider is Great Call Inc., Jitterbug’s parent company. You will not find Jitterbug everywhere, but you will find it here in the Lighthouse Store (111 East 60 Street, NYC Ph: (212)821-9687). It sells for $149 plus a one-time activation charge of $35 and service plans begin at $10. And I hear Jitterbug will soon make text messaging easy too. (You know you want to). Go ahead, take the step…simplify.

Does simplicity interest you?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In A Nano

Could not be more pleased that it is Apple’s “Vision” to so boldly embrace the concept of universal accessibility ….great for people who cannot see so good, better for everyone. In fact, their symbol for Universal Access, a figure with open arms, is clearly about inclusion. At this point, having an iPod is sort of like having a computer…you just do, and you may even have a couple. I received my first iPod, a gift, all set up and ready to go. I was taught (patiently) to navigate the menus which, for the most part, I could barely see. Having mastered the art of navigating in the dark, I happily joined the ranks of millions of iPod music lovers and audio book readers. And then, last September, enter the iPod nano (4th generation) with the life-changing option: spoken menus (and the very recent release of the iPod shuffle with voice over). This took me from happiness to heaven! Could literally find an artist, album, song in seconds --- click, scroll, click --- hearing what I don’t see, every step of the way. Actually, now it feels like I do see. I highly recommend the experience. Good for everyone, don’t you agree?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's It All About

For a while, I have been collecting items in a virtual folder labeled “Easy On The Eyes,” which I often pull from and share with people I encounter everyday. Over the last few years, I have come to realize that this resource filed in my head has relevance that reaches far beyond the population of people, who like me, have a serious vision impairment, well into the general population.

Most of us experience the same degree of difficulty in reading the text on a cell phone screen, or a Blackberry, or an iPod (until recently). Who isn’t reaching for the readers and the pocket magnifiers?

Happy to report, these issues are not going unnoticed. More and more mainstream corporations and makers of widely used electronic and technology devices are stepping into the arena of accessibility (simply means making things easy to deal with). After all, who can ignore a market 100 million strong and growing?

I am delighted to have the opportunity to launch this blog, and share with you the many wonderful developments in ‘vision-friendly technology.’ A good many things that make life easier for me, I've learned about from others, word of mouth, and I am pleased to be able to pass it along. So here we go, blogging our way to many, many times the numbers that good old word-of-mouth can reach.

There is a lot to cover already…and so much to come. Great news like crossing over of the iPod nano and shuffle with voice over for spoken menus) and the Kindle 2’s six font sizes, text-to-speech option and (soon) a big screen version, over-the-counter cell phones with voice recognition and audio output, talking ATMs and Metro Card Vending machines; and how Disney is making theme parks accessible with descriptive narration and GPS, and how IBM sees personal technology developing in the near term. And, more, more, more, more!
Remember, the fact is, when it’s good for people with impaired vision, it’s actually better for everyone!