Volume II Number 1, January 1995

Book Review: The CD-ROM Advantage for Blind Users

Ann Parsons
by Diane Croft, Deborah Kendrick and Albert Gayzagian
Published by National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen Street
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 266-6160
FAX: (617) 437-0456
Print, Braille, & IBM diskette formats
$11.95 ($3.50 shipping for the print version)

"Why should a blind person care about CD-ROMs?" "What equipment do you need to use CD-ROM?" "Are drives expensive, and where do I buy them?" These questions and many more are answered clearly and concisely by The National Braille Press' new reference guide, The CD-ROM Advantage For Blind Users. This handy, one volume, starter manual, presents information about a new and fascinating technology. The pamphlet is meant for blind computer users who just beginning to learn about the enormous advantages of purchasing and using CD-ROM discs.

The authors of this pamphlet explain that CD-ROM technology now makes it possible for hundreds of books, pamphlets, magazines and even multimedia games and education programs to be stored on small, round pieces of plastic. They stress the fact that being able to access this wealth of data will open doors, often closed in the past.

The pamphlet contains three parts. The first part answers 17 questions commonly asked by new users of CD-ROM's. The second section profiles its authors as well as several other individuals and explains how they use CD-ROM technology. The third section has a list of titles of CD's which have been found to be accessible. In the back of the pamphlet is a directory listing sources for accessible CD's, CD-ROM drives and blind or visually impaired people with experience in using CD's.

The first paragraph of this review asked some of the questions addressed in "The CD-ROM Advantage For Blind Users." Here are partial answers to them.

Q: "Why should a blind person care about CD-ROM? CD-ROM is a breakthrough publishing medium for blind people who have never had equal access to standard print publications and, most notably, reference works. Now, for the first time, it is possible for a blind person to have access to dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories, etc., at a relatively low cost, in a small, compact size, and in an output format selected by the user."

Q: "What equipment do you need to use CD-ROM? To use CD-ROM, you must first have a computer. And for a blind person, obviously you need an accessible computer with Braille, speech, or large-print display. Just how powerful your computer must be depends on what you want to do with CD-ROM." This subsection is most interesting because it explains that one need not have the newest and most powerful computer in order to run the simpler sorts of CD's. This kind of realistic approach to the subject of computer hardware is one of the pluses in this pamphlet.

Q: "Are drives expensive, and where can you buy them? The price of an average drive is $300-$500, depending on whether the drive is internal or external, and whether it includes a sound card. Brands like Mitsumi and Panasonic are fairly inexpensive with prices between $200-$250. CD-ROM drives that feature faster average access times can run as high as $1,000. Typically, owners of an IBM or PC-compatible computer must spend $300-$1,000 for a CD-ROM player, a sound card and additional speakers. The overall cost is slightly less for Macintosh users, who only have to add a CD-ROM drive."

The second part of the pamphlet profiles users of CD-ROM's who are blind. Here is a sampling of some of the ways in which these people use this new technology.

Deborah Kendrick: "In my work as a professional writer and editor, information is critical. I might be researching the combined effects of asthma medications one day and the acting career of Robert Redford the next, and meanwhile be asked to add some statistics to an article on bi-racial adoptions. With CD-ROM technology, I can do all of those things swiftly and independently, at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., and I can usually lose time wandering through the fascination of fact-finding as well!"

Paul Henrichsen: "After 20 years of raising kids and working other jobs, Paul Henrichsen and his wife, Yvonne, returned to the college campus together. As graduate students in the MBA program at California State University, Fresno, the Henrichsens decided a few years ago to add a CD-ROM drive to their existing arsenal of home computer equipment.

Today, when small groups are assigned class projects, the Henrichsens invite everyone home, and together they peruse the CD's for material. Titles like Microsoft Small Business Library and Magazine Rack have proved invaluable in such situations, and it's a rare occasion when they need to make that trek to the campus library.

"When I purchased the drive," Henrichsen reflects, "it was with the idea that not only would it be of benefit to me, but that our four children would use it as well. That's exactly what happened, and it's the best investment I ever made."

The third part of this excellent pamphlet is a 20-page list of accessible CD's. Some of these include: American Heritage Dictionary, Deluxe Edition; Britannica's Family Choice; Business Assistant; Colossal Cookbook; Constitution Papers; Desk Top Bookshop; Greatest Books Ever Written; Library of The Future, 3rd Edition; and, Microsoft Bookshelf. The authors state clearly that accessibility is "relative." They explain that CD's for Windows are not accessible to DOS users. In addition, the fact that not all screen readers are alike, and that some of these access CD's better than do others is discussed. Finally, they state that sometimes the experience level of a user plays a part in whether or not a particular CD is accessible. All these statements mean that the authors of this pamphlet were careful to present their material in a straight forward and honest manner.

This is the true advantage of this pamphlet, that it is not biased in any way. It presents facts and it presents sources to provide more knowledge about the subjects discussed. In a world where advertisers promote products in order to gain business, this pamphlet is a refreshing change.

Parsons, A. (1995). Book review: The CD-ROM advantage for blind users [Review of the book The CD-ROM advantage for blind users, by D. Croft, D. Kendrick, & A. Gayzagian]. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 2(1).