On March 13, I had the opportunity to attend the South Carolina Assistive Technology Expo at the Brookland Banquet and Conference Center in West Columbia. This an an annual one-day exposition that is free and open to the public. It features both exhibitors in various booths on the show floor, and a dozen workshops held in 3 sessions throughout the day. I was able to talk with many of the exhibitors as well as attend a workshop on creating accessible documents.
The expo show floor had exhibit booths from manufacturers of Assistive Technology products as well as organizations. It was great to be able to actually try out the various devices, rather than relying on website demos and online videos. I found the exhibitors to be helpful, receptive to questions and not pushy.
A few of the highlights from the show floor:
This company develops assistive technology devices for people with low vision. The company has a wide range of products to ranging from cameras, cameras with displays, and handheld devices. The portable, handheld devices provide magnification and contrast change. These also have internal storage, so a photo of the text can be reviewed later. The company is also developing a product that integrates a camera connected to a computer with text to speech software.
At the Tobii booth, I was able to test an eye tracking system to run a computer. I stood in front of the PC at a normal distance from the display. The demo began by calibrating the eye tracker. This took only a few seconds of following a dot around the screen with my eyes. After just a few seconds of of calibration, I was able to move the pointer around screen with just my eyes, selecting items with amazing precision. This assistive technology would give a person with a motor disability an amazing amount of freedom. Unfortunately, it is also a fairly expensive system, around $15,000 for a standalone system and $7,000 for the camera and software for your own computer.
Read & Write Gold is a software package (available for Windows and Mac platforms) that incorporates many reading and writing helpers. The toolbar works within any application on the system and provides a screen reader, word prediction, an image dictionary, text to speech, grammar checker, and many other features. A great all-in-one package for literacy,
During session III, I attended the workshop "Creating Accessible Word, PowerPoint and PDF Documents", led by Matt Polkowsky. Matt is the Webpage content/Resources Coordinator for the S. C. DHEC Bureau of Air Quality. He worked through Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat Professional, explaining how to create documents that are accessible. He emphasized the proper use of headers and styles, and showed how to include alt text for images.
Matt presentation was well organized and very informative, but it was the input from Steve Cook, an end user with blindness that was the most enlightening. He is an experienced user of the JAWS screen reader and was able to give answer direct questions based on his hands-on use. I found that have the end user's perspective is truly irreplaceable when it comes to understanding accessibility.
Images by Jeff Francis. Taken with an iPhone 4.