Sight Village 2010 – a first-time visitor’s reflections

 

My second day working for the Disability Team at the University of Nottingham and I was whisked away to Birmingham to be immersed in the world of Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired and Blind people.  With little experience of this disability I was intrigued and enthusiastic to find out more and get my hands on some demos and freebies. 

Based in New Bingley Hall, Birmingham, , Sight Village is a large collection of companies displaying and demoing their products, while short seminar sessions take place upstairs. There is a buzz to the place, everyone is here to see what’s new and improved, and everyone is happy to chat to you about it all.

The first stop was MagniLink to get a demo of Go!, their magnification and OCR to speech software for mobile phones.  A very smiley and helpful Swedish lady explains the features and range of phones it works with, giving a practical demo of the live video magnification and then the image capture to speech capability.  Although my first demo of this type of software, I was impressed by the clarity of the images and speech.  She also gave me some nice pens and neck chains!

Next up was Optelec and the text reader system an easy to set up in a self contained unit (no computers needed!) that reads your text, whether it be book, newspaper or any written material and then reads it to you.  “Four seconds from capture to reading” beams the Optelec rep as he slides the Radio Times under the camera and presses the button.  “Must be a faulty unit” he then says when it clearly doesn’t scan and read in four seconds. Moving on…

Dolphin Computer Access Ltd, the creators of SuperNova, Lunar and Hal, had a new portable USB version of their kit, allowing users to carry around their screen readers and magnifiers in their pocket allowing them to plug them into any computer they are working at. More demo disks and catalogues follow.

Off to one of the biggest stands of the show, HumanWare, who were showcasing multiple pieces of equipment – Portable Magnifiers, BrailleNote Apex, Zoom-Ex and the most impressive of the lot, Trekker Breeze.  The Breeze is a personal GPS system that verbally announces names of streets and landmarks, with the ability to record routes for future use.  A practical demonstration was in the offing but the onslaught of torrential rain made a jaunt round the block look less exciting so I sloped off to check out the other stalls.

The majority of the equipment being shown was remarkably similar – Video Magnifiers, Screen Magnifiers, Text Readers, Screen Readers – and often the only difference was in the appearance of the product.  As much as I would like to describe and explain everything I saw, I will do some quick highlights –

  • Plextalk Pocket (Mobile Daisy book player / recorder) with a very enthusiastic demoer who told us some inside “secrets”, 
  • Claro Software who were very keen to give out samples and demos of all their screen magnifiers and readers,
  • Living Paintings with their thermoforms (posh word for raised images), and the Tactile Library, an online database of images  that when printed with the right equipment creates raised images and letters, my sample piece taking pride of place on my divider at work.

Finally, I would like to start with an admission…”I don’t like Apple products”, in fact I would go so far to say I really, really dislike them… until today that is.  Listening to the RNIB techie show off the Apple screen reader capability I was amazed.  Partly because it is FREE and comes BUILT IN, and partly because of how good it is.  I sort of expected the built in one to be a poorer version of what’s on the market, but in actual fact it’s good, very good.  A quick set of key commands and the screen reader is on, not just reading out clickable choices but also any other text in the boxes.  The voices are clear, there are a multitude of short cut keys to use and it’s simple to use.  Not only that, but if you happen to use other Apple products, you’ll more than likely find it built into all of them too.  So after years of Apple bashing, I am beginning to see why they are so loved and how useful they actually are.

Contact the author of this post, Ben Perrett, IT Tutor via ben.perrett@nottingham.ac.uk or leave a comment.

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