December 9, 2018

The Second-Generation iBill®

On September 18, 2012, Orbit Research announced a second-generation version of the iBill® Talking Money Identifier. When the original iBill® was released in late 2009, it was truly a very competitive product. Other currency identifiers were priced over $300, and they were too large–so large, in fact, that they could not fit in your pocket. The original iBill®, on the other hand, was light, small, and priced at $99. Moreover, it could be set to speak, beep, or vibrate; and people who were deaf and blind could use it.

I am not one who automatically accepts the claims made by companies extoling the virtues of their products. I prefer to rely on personal experience or to solicit the informed views of people whose judgment I trust. In the case of the iBill®, Orbit Research claimed that it was able to identify paper currency in less than a second and that it was better than 99.9% accurate. My personal experience has proven this to be true. The iBill® has never misidentified paper currency; the worst thing that happens is that you get a message which says “error,” which means that you should try reading the currency again; and this happens so rarely that I can’t remember the last time it happened to me. For the hundreds of times I have asked the iBill® to read paper currency, it has always come through in less than a second.

Good as the iBill® was back in late 2009, there were two issues that seemed to come up over and over again. First, there were those who thought that the iBill® needed an earphone jack to support private listening to the announcements about currency denominations (this was not a view that I shared). Secondly (confirmed by my own personal experience), while it was very easy to insert newer currency into the reading slot, older paper money would often not slide in quite so easily, making the reading experience more than a little frustrating. Both of these problems have been quite handily solved with the second generation of the iBill®. Moreover, the new iBill® comes with other improvements as well. So, if you buy the second-generation iBill® today, you will notice these improvements:

  • The buttons on the second-generation iBill® are recessed so that they are not pressed inadvertently when it is placed in a purse or pocket.
  • The second-generation iBill® has corners that are more rounded, giving it a more compact feel.
  • The new iBill® has an earphone jack; you can now have your currency read out loud without other people listening (an earphone can be obtained from Orbit Research).
  • A new and improved reading slot makes it easier to insert older currency into the iBill®. You can now use a finger to push older currency further into the slot.
  • The volume has been enhanced so that the iBill® can speak even louder than ever.

The bottom line for me is that even though the price of the new iBill® is $20 more (it is now priced at $119) than the original, it is still well worth the price–that is, if you are looking for a reliable, long-lasting, and durable currency identifier. Smart phone users will be quick to point out that some very good currency identification apps exist for the iPhone and Android smart phones, and they are certainly far less expensive than the iBill®. For those of you who do not want or need a smart phone, the iBill® is there for you–and at an affordable price.

The iBill® can be purchased directly from Orbit Research through its Website: http://www.orbitresearch.com. For more information, contact:
Orbit Research
3422 Old Capitol Trail
Suite 585
Wilmington, Delaware 19808
Phone: 888-606-7248
Email: information@orbitresearch.com
Website: http://www.orbitresearch.com

Marvel Comics Makes New Daredevil Title into Free Audiobook

Daredevil swings across an audio-detailed cityscapeMarvel Comics has released a free audio Daredevil comic. Daredevil, a red-costumed crime fighter, is also Matt Murdoch, mild-mannered blind lawyer with secret super senses. Blinded as a youth, ironically while saving a blind man from an on-coming truck carrying radioactive material, young Matt’s other four senses develop to extraordinary levels. These senses enable Matt to become the superhero Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Using his super hearing as a kind of echolocation, Daredevil swings across the canyons of New York City, battling such supervillains as Kingpin, Bullseye and the Owl with his trusty billy club and ninja skills.

Daredevil #1 Audio Edition is not the first audio comic book. Superman Lives!  has been around since 2005.  Batman–The Complete Nightfall Series appears even earlier, circa 1994. However, this seems to be the first time Daredevil has shown up in audio format (though the movie, Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, does have audio description).

According to an Associated Press release, senior Editor Stephen Wacker said that the audio version of Daredevil # 1 came about after he and series writer Mark Waid thought the Matt Murdock/Daredevil character might appeal to visually impaired fans.  Wacker relates that he has “received several letters since editing the character. Many spoke of being visually impaired or sharing the character with friends who were.” Wacker was thus inspired to present the first issue of the reset title as an audiobook.

Full panel descriptions are provided directly from Daredevil writer Mark Waid’s script, the same descriptions that the artists use to inspire their drawings. We gave a listen to the audio sample and, after a slightly awkward introduction, it has all the earmarks of an enjoyable read. The descriptions are clear and well-detailed without being overblown, making the action  easy to visualize, and the voices used, while not professional actors, are well done.  The cover has the innovative detail of a red-costumed Daredevil, swinging via billy club across a aurally-depicted grayscale cityscape. All the buildings and even the birds flying by are made from the words their sounds make. For instance, the birds’ outlines are filled with the word “flap” repeated over and over.

While this seems to be Marvel Comics first foray into the world of audiobooks (a summary internet search did not turn up any other available Marvel titles), as huge fans in our own right (Spiderman rules!), we hope they will be inspired to make many more.

Olympus DM-620 Still Accessible After All These Years

Silver Olympus DM-620About a month ago, I purchased the Olympus DM-620 digital voice recorder in my ongoing quest to acquire the latest and greatest in nonvisually-accessible digital recorders.  The Olympus DM-620 digital recorder is the latest in a line of Olympus digital recorders with voice guidance that makes most of the recorder’s settings and features nonvisually accessible.  Other Olympus models that can be purchased with voice guidance are the Olympus DM-420, DM-520, DM-2, and DM-4.

With the voice guided prompts, most of the recorder’s features are nonvisually accessible.  It is still not possible to set the date and time without sighted help, and information about how much memory and/or recording time you have available is still not spoken, but the important settings can be adjusted with the help of voice guided prompts.

I needed a little bit of sighted help to install the batteries and to identify some of the buttons.  However, after only a few minutes, I was able to operate the DM-620 and change settings on my own.

Pressing the Menu buttons starts the voice guidance which allows many recorder settings to be changed.  The first thing that you will probably want to change is the speed of the voice prompts which, by default, are set to speak fairly slowly.  Another setting that you might want to change is the format of the recording files.  I prefer to use the MP3 format at 128KBPS.

The Olympus DM-620 provides five folders that can be used to hold audio recordings.  They are labeled “Folder A,” “Folder B,” and so on.  Each folder can hold up to 200 files (i.e., recordings).

I have found with some digital recorders that it is often a bit tricky to know which folder you are using.  What I have done to overcome this problem is to record an audio file in each of the five folders stating the name of the folder.  For example, in Folder A, I record a file which says “Folder A”.  Then, I lock the file so that it cannot be erased accidentally.  Files can be easily locked and unlocked through the menus, and all of this is accessible with voice guided prompts.

There is an electronic version of the User’s Guide for the Olympus DM-620, available as a PDF document: DM-620 Detailed Instructions (English). While much of this is readable with screen access technology, the file is formatted for visual presentation, and some of the information consists of unlabeled graphics.  Nevertheless, I found that, with some effort, some useful information can be extracted from the PDF document.

All of the Olympus digital recorders I have used over the years have the ability to pause during recording and playback.  This means that you can stop the recorder at any time to avoid recording any unwanted information or pause while listening to long recordings.  Unfortunately, there seems to be no ability that I am aware of in the Olympus digital recorders with voice guidance to insert or add to recordings after they have been stopped.

All in all, I believe that the Olympus DM-620 is a very useful digital recorder, and it is reasonably accessible to the nonvisual user.

I was able to purchase this recorder on Amazon.com for about $126. (Currently listed on Amazon.com at $119.)

Contributed by Curtis Chong of Technology for the Blind

 

The Free Screen Reader Challenge

NVDA logo vs. Thunder logoDarren Burton and John Lilly, of the American Foundation for the Blind tech lab, pit the free and open source NVDA screen reader against the free Thunder screen reader in a series of computer tasks. They evaluated the two screen readers on several different computers equipped with Windows XP and Windows 7. The tests included productivity applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and online activities like banking, shopping, and using iTunes.

NVDA proved to be the overall winner in the tests and was judged to be a close competitor to the commercially available screen readers. You can read the complete results in their detailed report in the August edition of Access World.

IBM PC Turns 30

Vintage IBM PC with green screen monitorThis week is the 30th Anniversary of the IBM PC. Some of us are old enough to remember the early days of Henter-Joyce and even the Video Voice screen reader from a small Berkeley startup called Grassroots Computing. Those were the days, when DOS could talk, and there was no graphical user interface to spoil the fun.

The original IBM press release promoted the first PC as “the computer for just about everyone who has ever wanted a personal system at the office, on the university campus or at home” with an introductory price of $1695. An original review of the new PC said that it was professionally put together and “the whole world and its grandmother will soon be frantically” writing software for the new computer. Leave a comment and let us know about your first computer and screen reader or other assistive technology experience.

The First Alert Wireless Talking Smoke Alarm

White, octagonal First Alert Talking Smoke Alarm

First Alert Talking Smoke Alarm

The new First Alert Onelink smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with voice alarm keep your entire home safe by communicating with each other wirelessly. You can hear an alarm no matter where you are in the house and the integrated voice announcement tells you where the alarm originated.

This means that if an alarm sounds in your basement, all of the alarms will sound and critical moments are not lost waiting for the smoke to reach an alarm near where you are sleeping. You will be sure to hear the 85 decibel alarm and the programmable voice will tell you where the danger is in your home.

Chris Grabowski of Mystic Place Blog and Podcast demonstrates how to set up and use the First Alert Onelink in his latest podcast.

NVDA Free Screen Reader Latest Release

NV Access has announced a new version of NVDA, the free and open source screen reader for Microsoft Windows. That’s right, I’ll say it again, free and open source screen reader.

NVDA logoAccording to the NVDA website, the screen reader provides “feedback via synthetic speech and Braille, it enables blind or vision impaired people to access computers running Windows for no more cost than a sighted person. Major features include support for over 20 languages and the ability to run entirely from a USB drive with no installation.”

And it’s free!

The new release, version 2011.2,  lists several improvements. NVDA now includes:

  • configurable levels, custom labels and character descriptions for punctuation and symbols
  • no pauses at the end of lines during “say all”
  • better ARIA support in IE
  • improved XFA/LiveCycle PDF documents
  • greater access to text written to the screen
  • access to formatting and color info for text written to the screen

The creators and developers of NVDA, Michael Curran and James Teh (yes, I typed that correctly, autocorrect!) felt that people should not have to pay extra to be able to use a computer just because they have low-to-no vision.

In a quote from the Queensland University of Technology website, Mr. Teh said, “A sighted person takes for granted that they can sit down at any computer and use it.We really are in the information age – everything is online these days. So access to computers for the blind and vision impaired is incredibly important, which is why we wanted our software to be free. …[NVDA] can also be copied to a USB stick, which can be used on any PC at school or university, with no installation required.”

What is your favorite screen reader? Do you think screen readers should be included with the operating system, a la Voiceover? Give us your opinion in a comment.