Communications World Script: 20 February 1999
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Segment A

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KIM: And I'm Kim Elliott. Today's special program came from a suggestion by...

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KIM: No, I'll be taking over now.

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KIM: That may well be. Nevertheless. Today's special program was at the suggestion of Tim Hendel. Tim is a well-known shortwave listener. You may have heard his frequent contributions to the Media Network Answer Line. Because Tim is blind, he is concerned about the design of newer generation shortwave receivers. I asked Tim to describe the problem.

TAPE: CUT 4 (5:02)

KIM: For an industry perspective, I spoke to Rich Renkin, National Sales Manager at R.L. Drake Company. Drake is the largest manufacturer of shortwave communications receivers in the United States, and the company also makes satellite receivers. Mr. Renkin says that Drake's two lowest cost shortwave receivers are reasonable straightforward for blind users.

TAPE: CUT 5 (2:20)

KIM: Less successful among blind users was the R8, predecessor to the Drake's present-day top-of-the-line R8B communications receiver. The R8 had carousel controls, meaning that you had to push a button repeatedly to go from function to function, such as AM, lower sideband, upper sideband. That was changed to the single-function controls in the R8B, a result of feedback from both sighted and blind listeners.

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In segment B of Communications World, we will examine problems of access to computers and the Internet by blind persons. On VOA News Now, the B Segment can be heard today Saturday at 336, 936, 1336, and 2136 Universal Time.

For VOA News Now, I'm Kim Elliott in Washington.

Segment B

TAPE: cut 7 (:06)

KIM: Personal computers and the Internet have certainly provided new avenues of access to information for blind persons. But they also present occasional challenges to access.

For shortwave listeners, high-end shortwave receivers such as the Drake R8B can be used with a computer through an RS-232 connector. This has allowed the development of software that can facilitate a blind person's operation of a shortwave receiver.

Mark Fine is owner of Fineware, a company that develops software for the operation of communications receivers. Mark found that blind people were very interested in the DOS version of his Smart R8 Control software because the key presses were easy to remember -- Alt-M for mode, Alt-B for bandwidth, Alt-A for antenna, and so on. Software has also been developed in which synthesized voices read out frequencies and functions.

The problem here is that such software can only be used with expensive receivers. And if you have to add a computer and software to the radio listening process, radio ceases to be cozy. It's not conducive to bedside listening, or listening outdoors.

Computers and the Internet have also opened access to radio stations and other audio sources by way of RealAudio and other audio streaming systems. Getting to RealAudio files, however, is not always easy because of menu-based Web sites.

But radio, these days, can often be a disappointing source of information and entertainment. The richest source of information is the written word. And a variety of hardware and software are now available to make text accessible to blind persons. These read text from within computers, and scanned from printed pages.

Peter Scialli is owner of Shrinkwrap Computer Systems in Oakton, Virginia. His company is a dealer of software and hardware devices that convert text into synthesized speech. I asked Mr. Scialli to provide us an overview of these devices.

TAPE: CUT 8 (1:52)

Some blind persons think that access to computers was best when the DOS operating system was preeminent. Then, computer programs were text-based and well suited to character-recognition software. Now, in Windows environments, graphics displays make the audio readout of software and Web pages more problematic. I asked Peter Scialli if the transition from DOS to Windows was indeed a major setback for blind computer users..

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So, the hardware and software are there to provide computer access for blind persons. Nevertheless, designers of Web pages should keep certain things in mind so that they do not unnecessarily complicate access by blind users. Erica Schlesinger is a master's student of Journalism at Columbia University. For her master's research project, Ms. Scheslinger has been studying the blind community's use of the Internet.

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[Erica also tells us about an Internet mailing list for blind radio amateurs. Information from http://www.lsoft.com/scripts/wl.exe?SL1=BLIND-HAMS&H=MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU.]

KIM: Many Communications World listeners who are blind or vision impaired sent in comments for today's programs. We'll here those during the C segment of Communications World. On VOA News Now, the C segment can be heard today Saturday at 736, 1536, 1936, and 2336 Universal Time.

For VOA News Now, I'm Kim Elliott in Washington.

Segment C

OMTAPE

KIM: Thank you for all your messages ... sent in anticipation of this program and blind people and the media. I will acknowledge these in a minute.

First, some recent news items related to this subject.

IBM has introduced Home Page Reader, a talking Web browser designed for visually impaired computer users. This English version of the software joins the original Japanese language product. Home Page Reader uses a simple keypad that allows blind users to navigate the Internet. The software also has an e-mail function. The price for Home Page Reader is about 150 dollars.

This is not the first Web browser for the blind. Peter Scialli, whom we heard from in Segment B, says that another product called Webspeak, by Productivity Works [URL not working last time I checked], has been on the market for two years.

Another new Web-browsing product is BETSIE, from BBC Education Online in the U.K. BETSIE stands for BBC Educational Text to Speech Internet Enhancer. The software takes heavily formatted Web pages and makes them easier to read by text-to-speech software.

[For similar products, see also Henter Joyce.]

CD:

Now to e-mails from blind and vision impaired listeners. Donna Ring is an avid shortwave listener. She attends just about every gathering of shortwave listeners and DXers in the United States. Donna has sent several e-mails in support of today's program. Donna has used a wide array of shortwave receivers. She uses her Kenwood R-5000 to identify the frequency of DX catches, because it has a voice chip that speaks the frequency at the push of a button. For easy listening, her Grundig portable receives the most constant use. She says the Grundig is also rugged enough to withstand kitchen grease and crumbs.

Paul David in Wembley, Middlesex, England. Paul says that in 1997, he purchased a Sony mini-disc player, but it wasn't until late 1998 that he discovered a number of features on it. This was because of review of the machine in the magazine of the Visually Impaired Radio and Electronics Society, a group of radio enthusiasts formed in 1995.

Steve Bauer says he has an advanced dual mode cell phone. he can place and receive calls, but forget about being able to use Caller ID, menus, and the other fancy features. As for Web sites, he thinks fancy pages with pretty graphics are fine, but Web designers should also offer a text-only option. Each link should have a text label. And, Steve says, forget frames.

Pranav Lal also advises Web designers to stick to standard controls and not to do funny things with operating systems. He says Microsoft has created standards which if applied to web pages makes them accessible. Check out www.microsoft.com/enable .

Robin Plitt informs me that LS&S, a company near Chicago, has modified the Sangean 818CS shortwave portable. This is the Sangean with the built-in cassette recorder. The modification allows the cassette unit in the 818CS to be used with Library of Congress Talking Book tapes. These are recorded four tracks per cassette, and at the slower speed of 15/16th of an inch per second, thus allowing four hours of content per cassette.

An e-mail correspondent who identifies himself only as Hawke says he finds most new receivers to be a little difficult to operate. He also finds RealAudio to be difficult to work with and not very speech-friendly, which is strange for a audio streaming program

Larry Fain, K4RUC, hopes that changes will be made to make Communications World easier for sightless persons to access in RealAudio. This is for times when he misses the rebroadcast via WWCR.

Jim in London, who listens via World Radio network, writes that Realaudio and Microsoft Netshow are fully accessible once you get to them. The problem is that you have to get through the frames and graphics to get to the audio on many sites. Jim also notes that the well known audio Web site broadcast.com is difficult to navigate.

Dane Trethowan in Australia has a suggestion. His visual impairment makes it difficult for him to navigate some Web sites. He downloads Communications World, in RealAudio, from the ftp site of World Radio Network. Point your browser to ftp://ftp.wrn.org/archive/voa -- then select the date of the program you want to hear. The program is there two or three days after the broadcast date. It only takes about 12 minutes to download, quality is good, and you don't have to put up with net congestion.

And for blind DXers, Fred Vobbe asks me not to forget the National Radio Club's "DX Audio Service": www.nrcdxas.org.

CD:

And so what about solutions to the problem of media access by blind persons?. Curtis Chong Director of Technology at the National Federation of the Blind. He points out that it is not just shortwave radios, but a whole array of appliances that are posing problems for blind users. For example, the fashionable flat panel on a stove has buttons that can be seen, but not felt. I asked Mr. Chong if manufacturers have been receptive to design suggestions from the National Federation of the Blind.

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KIM: I will have links to many of the organizations and products in the script for today's program at the Communications World Web page. Please allow me a few days to post that. The URL is www.trsc.com/cw. That's www. dot tango-romeo-sierra-charlie dot charlie-oscar-mike slash charlie-whiskey. There you can find the script for today's and previous programs. The updated Communications World schedule. And links to the program in RealAudio format.

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KIM: The address is Communications World, Voice of America, Washington, D.C. 20547 USA. The postal code again is 20547. E-mail to cw at voa dot gov. That's cw for Communications World at voa for Voice of America dot gov for government.

For VOA News Now, I'm Kim Elliott in Washington.

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Kim Andrew Elliott
Producer and Presenter
Communications World
VOICE OF AMERICA
330 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20547 USA
E-mail: cw@voa.gov
Fax: +1-202-619-2543
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Last revision 25 February 1999
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