Volume II Number 1, January 1995

Department: Job Accommodations

Department: Job Accommodations

Welcome to the Job Accommodations department of the Information Technology and Disabilities journal. In this section, we focus on assistive technologies and techniques for disabled people in the job market. Numerous adaptive hardware and software packages make employment easier, and in some cases, possible. We are constantly looking for new resources to be published in these pages. The editor of this department is Joseph J. Lazzaro, director of the Adaptive Technology Program, Massachusetts Commission For The Blind, a vocational rehabilitation program that provides adaptive equipment and technical consultation with the goal of employment for persons with vision impairments. Mr. Lazzaro is a freelance technical writer, with numerous assistive technology-related articles and product reviews in print, including a 250-page guide describing how to adapt PC's for persons with disabilities. "Adaptive Technologies For Learning And Work Environments" is published by the American Library Association, Chicago, 800-545-2433. Mr. Lazzaro can be reached by telephone at 617-727-5550, Ext. 4305, or through the Internet at: Lazzaro@Bix.Com.




If you're working in an office, you're probably using Microsoft Windows. Windows remains the dominant operating system for today's business computers. This requires persons with disabilities to become familiar with Windows and to become equally skilled with Windows-based adaptive technology. Fortunately for many users with disabilities, Windows is a fairly accessible environment. The Windows Access Pack from Microsoft offers numerous utilities to make Windows more accessible. These include drivers to make moving the mouse easier, a sticky-key program, a program to flash the screen when the computer beeps error messages, and much more. The Access pack for Windows does not include any meaningful utilities to assist blind users, such as a screen magnifyer or speech output package, which is a serious limitation.

Unfortunately, Windows is difficult, if not impossible for blind computer users due to the lack of standardization among applications. Currently, screen readers written to run under Windows are not able to obtain sufficient information from the operating system to work reliably. According to Microsoft, work is proceeding to correct this problem, but several years will undoubtedly pass before the problem is ultimately resolved. In the meantime, the adaptive vendor community must do all it can to create robust and workable screen readers for blind users.

Just over the horizon, the Unix operating system and its graphical user interface may soon boast its own screen enlarger and screen reader. The Disability Access Committee For X is currently involved with creating the hooks necessary to create such assistive technology for Unix applications. It is expected to bear fruit sometime in 1995 or 1996, when it is hoped that a Unix-based screen reader and video enlarger will be available.


A product of Berkeley Systems of Berkeley California, Outspoken For Windows is a purely Windows-based screen reader for blind computer users. Outspoken can drive about 30 commercial voice synthesizers, including both serial and circuit-card-based units. Braille displays are not yet supported. The Outspoken package comes bundled with a main program disk, tactile screen guides to Windows, and cassette and disk copies of the system documentation. The tactile reference cards allow the user to "feel" what basic Windows screens and menus look like. This is helpful to the novice user who has not yet driven Windows or a graphical user interface. According to the company, Outspoken works with Windows-based word processors, databases, spreadsheets, and other telecommunications packages. Although Outspoken does not claim to make all Windows applications accessible, it offers a robust user interface and solid technical support. Unfortunately, the Windows operating system as a whole does not offer blind users as much accessibility as exists within the text-based MS DOS environment. This is because Windows applications are not currently standardized, which results in inaccurate reading of the screen. Until Microsoft, and its major independent software developers standardize their applications, blind users will not enjoy much success with Windows-based applications.


Another Windows-based screen reader to recently enter the market, Jaws For Windows is a product of Henter-Joyce (St. Petersburg Florida). Jaws For Windows can drive many commercial speech synthesizers, and comes with documentation in print, on disk, and on audio cassette. Jaws For Windows is a stand-alone screen reader, and does not require Henter-Joyce's popular Jaws For DOS screen reader to operate. Before the end of 1995, I am confident that several additional Windows-based screen readers will enter the market. According to the grapevine, GW Micro and MicroTalk are both ready to release Windows screen readers in the very near future.


Speech synthesis remains one of the most powerful and popular adaptive technologies being used on the job. The need for high quality speech is increasing as mainstream applications increasingly rely on speech output. For persons with disabilities, portability is often an important factor. Portable synthesizers are useful for blind consumers using speech to access laptop and notebook computers. Portable speech synthesizers can be taken from the job site, to school, or to the home office for use. High quality portable speech synthesizers make for smaller and lighter communications devices for people with speech impairments. Two new portable speech synthesizers offer different features.

The Dectalk Express is the long-awaited synthesizer from Digital Equipment Corporation (Maynard Massachusetts). Dectalk Express is a portable, battery-powered speech synthesizer with nine individual voices. Similar to the traditional Dectalk synthesizers, the Dectalk Express boasts the clearest and most natural sounding synthesized speech available. Dectalk Express is small enough to fit in a coat pocket and easily interfaces to any standard 9-pin serial port. Dectalk Express can thus be used on desktop, laptop, or notebook computers. The unit contains a built-in speaker and headphone jack for private listening. The unit is sold by many vendors of adaptive hardware and software, and it is widely available.

The Smartalk voice synthesizer is a product of Automated Functions (Arlington Virginia). The synthesizer comes bundled with two interface cables, one for use on a desktop computer, and the other for a laptop. A parallel interface card is included for installing the synthesizer on a desktop computer. This permits the user to dedicate one printer port permanently to the synthesizer. A pair of stereo headphones with volume control is also included. Smartalk automatically turns itself on and off, depending on the state of the desktop or notebook computer. Powered by a single 9-volt cell, the battery is easily replaced. Smartalk has a built-in speaker, making it highly portable. The unit will fit easily in a shirt pocket. Weight is five ounces. The synthesizer is based on the SSI263 speech chip. Smartalk is available from the manufacturer or from a variety of dealers.


The audio cassette continues to be a robust medium for the provision of information. Numerous companies offer hardware and software tutorials on a wide variety of subjects, allowing users to learn new skills, or brush up on old ones.

Top Dot Enterprises (Everett Washington 206-335-4894) offers several audio cassette tutorials. "Top DOS 5/6" is an introduction to MS DOS versions 5 and 6. The tutorial comes on three audio tapes and includes a supplementary disk of freeware and shareware programs. The tutorial takes the user from basic keyboarding to advanced features including batch files, macros, disk compression, and hard-disk management. The supplementary disk contains a shareware word processor, telecommunications program, text file reader, sample batch files, and some basic utilities. Top Dot also offers a tutorial for the ASAP screen reader from Microtalk. This tutorial is on two audio cassettes, and has been updated as recently as November 1994. Top Dot also offers the "Complete Audio Guide To The Braille 'N Speak" pocket talking computer. The tutorial covers a range of simple to advanced functions, creating files, printing, interfacing options, and other topics. Top Dot can be contacted via Internet mail at deamar@eskimo.com


The price of closed circuit television systems (CCTV) has been decreasing slowly over time, making it possible for more individuals to take advantage of magnification technology on the job. Aladdin is an inexpensive CCTV system for persons with vision impairments. Capable of enlarging books, magazines, and other printed material, the unit is compact and fits easily on the desktop. The reader consists of a 14-inch black and white video display monitor mounted above the camera system. The unit has a variable magnification range of 4 times to 25 times, and can display both standard and reverse images, either black on white, or white on black, allowing the user to view information in the most comfortable mode. The unit comes with a reading table, permitting the user to place reading materials beneath the camera focus. The unit is available from Telesensory Corporation, Mountain View California, or from a variety of dealers.


Another inexpensive CCTV system for use on the job, the ClearView Classic is a compact CCTV from Humanware, Loomis California. The unit contains a video monitor, reading table and camera, and can magnify up to 37 times. ClearView has only three controls: magnification level, focus, and contrast, making it easy to operate. The unit has a removable base that allows the unit to tilt and swivel for more comfortable reading. The user can choose from a 14-inch monitor with white paper background or a 14-inch monitor with bright white background. A 17-inch monitor can be had for an additional charge.


ISBN 0-8389-0615-X
PHONE 312-944-6780

Lazzaro, J. J. (1995). Job accommodations. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 2(1).