Assistive Technology

NVDA, the free open source screen reader for Microsoft Windows, has released version 2013.3rc2. NVDA 2013.3rc2 is a release candidate, so it will be identical to the final 2013.3 release unless major issues are found. NVDA is the development effort of NV Access in collaboration with global contributors.

NVDA gives people who are blind or vision impaired the ability to use their computer by hearing what is on the screen or reading it in braille. It is totally free but fully functional and portable. It can be downloaded directly to your PC or to a thumb drive, so that it can be used anywhere.

  • The new features of rc2 as listed in the NVDA Community website are: Form fields are now reported in Microsoft word documents.
  • NVDA can now announce revision information in Microsoft Word when Track Changes is enabled. Note that Report editor revisions in NVDA's document settings dialog (off by default) must be enabled also for them to be announced.
  • Dropdown lists in Microsoft Excel 2003 through 2010 are now announced when opened and navigated around.
  • a new 'Allow Skim Reading in Say All' option in the Keyboard settings dialog allows navigating through a document with browse mode quick navigation and line / paragraph movement commands, while remaining in say all. This option is off by default.
  • There is now an Input Gestures dialog to allow simpler customization of the input gestures (such as keys on the keyboard) for NVDA commands.
  • You can now have different settings for different situations using configuration profiles. Profiles can be activated manually or automatically (e.g. for a particular application).
  • In Microsoft Excel, cells that are links are now announced as links.
  • In Microsoft Excel, the existance of comments on a cell is now reported to the user.

Tracy Gray and Alise Brann are the authors of a new book, published by Brooks Publishing, on emerging trends in autism services.

Grey, leader of the Center for Technology Implementation at AIR, explains, “The convergence of mainstream technology and assistive technology is a critical milestone in promoting accessibility and independence for users with disabilities. We have been tracking trends in educational technology and assistive technology for the past decade and they indicate a shift toward portable, networked, customizable, and multitasking tech solutions with touch interfaces that mirror consumer technology.”

Read more on the book “Technology Tools for Students with Autism”

The United State Department of Transportation released regulations that govern the accessibility for people with disabilities for airline websites and kiosks on November 5, 2013. Lainey Feingold from the Law Offices of Lainey Feingold reacted to it in a blog post on their website stating that, “While there are positive aspects of the new regulations, the government missed an enormous opportunity to advance and protect the rights of air travelers with disabilities.” Read more of Lainey Feingold's blog on the New DOT Web and Kiosk Regulations.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $2.4 million in funding to three projects for robots that work cooperatively with people. The robots can adapt to changes in the environment to improve the capabilities of the user and enhance medical procedures. This is the second year NIH has participated in the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), a commitment among multiple federal agencies to support the development of a new generation of robots that work cooperatively with humans, known as co-robots. Read more about Robotic Assistive Technology.

Up until now, the Internet has been a visual and auditory tool. People with sight peer through their monitors into the digital landscape we know as the World Wide Web while people without vision have the content read to them through their screen readers.  Now at a school for the blind in Japan you can touch the Internet… even hold it in your hand.

The new tool for putting the Internet in your hands is called Hands On Search. Part 3D printer and Part computer this futuristic bit of assistive technology was developed by Yahoo in collaboration with the Japanese creative agency Hakuhodo Kettle. It can literally build just about anything requested.

Students at the Special Needs School for the Visually Impaired can say something into Hands On Search and the machine will search Yahoo for an image matching the request then print a miniaturized version. If an image can’t be found, Hands on Search will make an online request for more information.

Yahoo Japan has no plans for commercial production of the machine but will like donate this one to an organization who will utilize it, like the School for the Visually Impaired.

The U.S. Department of Education is awarding $1.9 million in grants to help individuals with disabilities purchase needed assistive technology. The grants will go to organizations in California, Missouri and Washington.

The funds will help people with disabilities acquire private financing to purchase needed assistive technologies and services under the Assistive Technology Alternative Financing Program.

Read more about the Grants Awarded to Persons with Disabilities.

On September 12, as part of its Accessibility and Innovation Initiative speaker series the FCC will present live demonstrations of new and compelling technologies designed to enhance accessibility. Among the demonstrations will be:

  • How a smartphone can scan printed material into electronic text
  • How a web-browsing assistant can extract news articles for later reading
  • How cloud computing can enhance accessibility for all

Dr. Yevgen Borodin who is a renowned professor and entrepreneur known for his research in computation methods and non-visual interfaces for improving web accessibility, will discuss “Improving Accessibility for the General Public.” Read additional detail on Dr. Borodin’s presentation and the live demonstration of accessibility enhancing technologies.

Freedom Scientific has made the JAWS 15 Beta public. This beta version of the popular screen reader, is now available for download at the Freedom Scientific website. Eric Damery, Vice President of Software Production Management, introduces and demonstrates the new and exciting features that will be available in the JAWS 15 release in Episode 81 of the FSCast hosted by Jonathan Mosen.  Among the new features in JAWS 15 is object navigation using the Touch Cursor. Activating the Touch Cursor enables the user to use the ARROW keys on the keyboard, or the controls on a braille display, to navigate through the actual object in the application in a manner that is similar to using gestures on the touchscreen of a tablet. New advancement also includes:

  • Touch Cursor Navigation Quick Keys
  • Advanced Object Navigation
  • Windows 8 Touch Screen Support
  • JAWS Specific Touch Screen Gestures
  • Vocalizer Expressive Synthesizer
  • NEW FSReader 3 with HTML Support

For a full list of new features visit the JAWS 15 Download page on Freedom Scientifics website.

The latest release of Window-Eyes, Window-Eyes 8.3, is a maintenance update that includes support for Windows 8.1. GW Micro has also announced that the update will provide better support for Windows 8 modern apps, provide numerous speed improvements, and enhances the windows-Eyes 8 feature set. Further, all current Window-Eyes 8 customers are urged to install the 8.3 update to address some performance issues uncovered after the release of Window-Eyes 8.2.

Owners of Window-Eyes 8.0 or above may download the upgrade to Window-Eyes 8.3 for free from the GW Micro website. Select the Check for Updates option from the Help Menu in the Window-Eyes control panel. You can also open a browser and go directly the Window-Eyes 8.3 upgrade, enter your serial number and select the Check for Upgrades button.

The FCC’s Accessibility Clearinghouse was created as part of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Its purpose is to be a useful, reliable and reusable resource for people looking for accessibility solutions to provide full access to our nation’s communication revolution. The website provides a wide range of data including accessibility features of mobile phones and contact information for telecommunication service providers and equipment manufacturers. An application programming interface (API) has also been created that allows free and easy access to all of the data available through the Clearinghouse.

As a companion to the Clearinghouse API the FCC has also created a software development kit (SDK) to promote ease of access and use of the API. The SDK was developed in the Python programming language due to its popularity and versatility.  The SDK can be found on the FCC’s GitHub Page.

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