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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Important news for consumers with special needs

Greetings everyone!  I'm Jayna Sheffield at the business and Guess what?  This is our last posting for the year and I'm the lucky one to be doing it.  We took a vote and decided to use our last posting of the year to provide consumers with special needs with some more selections of articles of interest.  The first article in our selection is geared towards those who are still hunting for holiday gifts.
On behalf of the staff at the business desk, I'd like to wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season and a bright and prosperous new year.  Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noèl, and Feliz Navidad.
We're going to be off for a nice long and well deserved holiday and will be back on Jan 28.
See you then and in the meantime, enjoy your festivities.
I'm Jayna Sheffield at the business desk.
Table of contents
December 15 2007
1 Maxi-Aids Releases List of Holiday Gift Ideas for Independent Living
2 Reading Machine Turns Legally Blind Teen Into Bookworm
3 What Is Juvenile macular degeneration
4 New technology for the differently-able
5 OLAT 6.0 - Bringing together Web 2.0 technologies and accessibility
6 The sightless follow the voice of the Internet
7 Talking Introduces Commstat CEO-24 Telephone Controlled Thermostat
8 Latest Website Rankings of 100 Retailers
9 Bad Web Design Proves a Problem for Blind Internet Users
10 European Commission calls for an all-inclusive digital society 
11 Swedish design: upwardly mobile
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Maxi-Aids Releases List of Holiday Gift Ideas for Independent Living
By News Release
FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK   November 28, 2007   Consumer News
(PRLEAP.COM) Maxi-Aids, world-leading supplier of products for independent living, today released its list of Top 10 Holiday Gift Ideas. Maxi-Aids provides items to improve the lives of the Blind, Low Vision, Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Senior Citizens.
With the holiday shopping season in full swing Maxi-Aids, a world-leading supplier of products for independent living that improve the lives of special needs individuals, has released its list of Holiday Gift Ideas for Independent Living. Topping this year's list are Reizen Talking Atomic Watches. "We expect our popular line of atomic watches to be our biggest seller this holiday season," says Maxi-Aids President Elliot Zaretsky. "They're attractive, reasonably priced and you never have to set them."
While a majority of Maxi-Aids' customers are senior citizens or have special needs such as visual or hearing impairments, Maxi-Aids' products often have a broader appeal. One of the items on the list, the Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock and Bed Shaker, is a good example. "Although this item was developed for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing," Mr. Zaretsky says with a smile, "One of our customers was buying it for a teenager who had trouble waking up for school each morning." The item list follows:
1. REIZEN TALKING ATOMIC WATCHES $59.95. For the Blind and Low Vision. Choose one of 6 styles. All models announce time and date, are self-setting (including Daylight Savings). Large 1-1/8" diameter face.
2. BRAILLE AND LOW VISION MONOPOLY (29957) $58.95. The ultimate accessible version of the family favorite. 20" square board with tactile overlay. Oversized game cards in large print and Braille. Braille dice.
3. LOW VISION MAGNIFIER LAMP (674134) $129.95. Great table lamp for the visually impaired stamp or coin collector, needle pointer or other hobbyist. 13-watt low glare bulb shows colors true to life, reduces eyestrain. See fine details more clearly with 3X optical magnifier. 360-degree rotating base.
4. REIZEN TRAVELERS LCD TALKING ALARM CLOCK (item #700890) $14.95. Perfect for the Blind and Visually Impaired traveler, this compact alarm features one-touch time announcement and choice of rooster, cuckoo or steady beep alarm.
5. PICTURE CARE PHONE (303207) $44.99. Great for those with memory loss and Alzheimer's. Speed dial the person whose picture is displayed on the keypad. (Dial by photo, not number.) 10 speed dial slots. Last number redial. Ringer Off/Low/High settings. Flash button alerts for incoming call.
6. SONIC BOMB ALARM CLOCK & BED SHAKER (ITEM #SBB500SS) $42.95 For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, (or any sound sleeper.) 113dB adjustable volume alarm. 12-volt bed shaker. 110-volt power supply included.
7. LARGE PRINT CROSSWORDS #7 (475297) and #8 (475298) $12.95/each. The newest additions to this popular low vision series. Challenging for the mind, not the eyes. Oversized words and puzzle grids. 125 puzzles in each 10" X 9", 288-page book.
8. SUDOKO BRAILLE GAME (402783) $39.95. The latest brain teaser craze is now accessible to the Blind and Low Vision. 19 games with 5 levels of difficulty. 7/8" square Braille/tactile pieces with printed numbers. Case size: 16" X 16" X ½".
9. QUICKLOOK ZOOM PORTABLE VIDEO MAGNIFIER (607597) $795.00. The ultimate portable tool for those with low vision. Allows easy reading of restaurant menus, product labels in stores, magazines in waiting rooms, etc. Magnifies 3X - 18X on 4.3" LCD Wide Screen Display. Color, Black and White or Reverse Image.
10. TALKING TAPE MEASURE (ITEM #3082716) $94.95. For the Blind or Low Vision Handyman or Carpentry Buff. Announces length measured up to 16 feet in 1/16" or 1mm increments. Auto shut-off. Includes leather carry case and 9V battery.
For product details, visit Maxi-Aids' website at and click on the "MaxiAids Holiday Catalog" link. You may also order a FREE printed version of the holiday catalog by calling 1-800-522-6294.
Maxi-Aids is a world-leading provider of products for independent living, supplying an extensive range of aids and devices to improve the lives of the Blind, Low Vision, Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Diabetic and those with mobility and other special needs. Maxi-Aids is the exclusive distributor of the Marks Script Guide writing aid for the Visually Impaired and Reizen products for special needs.
Contact Information Paul Weingarten
Email Maxi-Aids

St. Louis University, MO, USA
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Reading Machine Turns Legally Blind Teen Into Bookworm
By Donn Walker
November 14, 2007
Donn Walker
ST. LOUIS - For the first time in her life, 13-year-old Amy Knight can go home and do something most people would consider quite ordinary: She can open a book and read.
The illinois teenager is legally blind in her left eye and fully blind in the other. She was born prematurely and with glaucoma, a condition in which damage to the optic nerve causes vision loss. For Amy, objects at a distance were simply fuzzy and blurry shapes. In order to read anything up close, she'd have to hold something right next to her left eye.
All that changed last summer, however, when Amy was given a low-vision electronic reading machine by SLUCare - the physician practice of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. The device consists of a camera and monitor that make objects - typically reading material - placed underneath appear up to 50 times larger.
Amy had limited access to such a device at the public school she attends and she had no device at home, making it impossible to read and do homework once she left the classroom. She'd begun learning to read Braille.
"Now that she has this machine at home, her life has totally changed," said her mother, Janet Knight. "She comes home and does her homework - which is something she really could never do before. And she can now read comic books, which she loves."
"It's like her world has opened up," Knight added.
Amy received the device free of charge from SLUCare's Low Vision Center, the only full-time medical practice in the St. Louis region to treat people with low vision, which is considered eyesight so poor it cannot be corrected through glasses or contacts.
Electronic reading machines cost up to $4,000 when purchased new. The device given to Amy was donated to the Low Vision Center by the widow of a man who'd used it for several years before passing away.
"This reading machine will open doors for Amy that would have been closed forever without such a device," said Thomas Porter, O.D., director of SLU's Low Vision Center.
Low vision problems affect anywhere from 5 to 7 percent of the population - mostly the elderly - which equates to about 150,000 to 200,000 people in the St. Louis area, Porter said. Their numbers include people with glaucoma, cataracts, glaucoma, retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.
In general, the eyesight of someone with low vision can't be improved - in other words, made clearer or stronger. Instead, people with low vision can be taught to use aides and devices, such as the electronic reading machine, that can improve contrast and sharpness, reduce glare and make items appear larger.
However, Porter said that fewer than 10 percent of people with low vision elect to buy an electronic reading machine, largely due to the relatively high cost of the devices.
SLU receives several such used devices every year, and Porter says they're going to try to match the machines with other young people, like Amy, who suffer from low vision and whose families can't afford to purchase such a device.
"When you can make this kind of difference in the life of a child, it's extremely meaningful," Porter said. "In many cases, a gift like this can mean the difference between the chance for an education and a career, or a lifetime of poverty."
SLUCare consists of physicians, nurse practitioners, medical assistants and related professionals who provide high-quality care for patients locally, regionally and nationally. SLUCare is the only academic medical practice in St. Louis fully accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care Inc. This accreditation is a voluntary process through which the quality of SLUCare services and performance is measured against nationally recognized standards. More information is available at

Female First Magazine (UK)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
What Is Juvenile macular degeneration
17th Nov 11:05
It's true that the most common form of macular degeneration is age-related but other types of macular degeneration affect much younger people, from teenagers and children to infants.
These different forms are known as juvenile macular degeneration, early-onset macular degeneration or macular dystrophy.
The macula is located at the back of the eye at the centre of the retina. It enables us to see what is directly in front of us and also allows us to see finer detail. So it plays a vital role in helping us to read, write and perform other detailed tasks. It also enables us to recognise faces and see colours.
When macular degeneration occurs, the light-sensitive cells at the centre of the macula become damaged, and they malfunction and die. This results in central vision becoming blurred while peripheral vision remains clear.
The different types of juvenile macular degeneration are caused by genetic mutations that affect the macular cells.
The commonest form is Stargardt's disease, which is estimated to affect about one in 10,000 people. It's inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, meaning that a person has a one in four chance of inheriting the problematic gene.
Although symptoms may not start until someone is in their 30s or 40s, it's most common for symptoms to begin between the ages of seven and 12, with loss of central vision by the time they reach adulthood.
The second most common form of juvenile macular degeneration is Best's vitelliform retinal dystrophy. It's also inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, and a child has a one in two chance of inheriting the defective gene from their parents.
It's usually identified during childhood or teenage years and doesn't always affect both eyes equally. Sometimes good central vision can remain in one eye.
Information about other types of juvenile macular degeneration can be found at the Macular Degeneration Foundation.
In the UK, 220,000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The Royal National Institute of the Blind estimates the total number of people with AMD is closer to 400,000.
Central vision becomes blurred with symptoms similar to looking at a faded photograph. This loss of central vision makes it difficult for people affected to see what is directly in front of them and makes reading, writing, recognising faces and performing detailed tasks difficult.
Peripheral vision remains clear, so a person with juvenile macular degeneration does not develop total blindness. There is no pain or redness of the eyes.
Juvenile macular degeneration cannot be cured, but additional lighting and magnifiers can help to alleviate the symptoms. It's important to protect the eyes by eating healthily and avoiding ultraviolet light exposure.
Philippine Information Agency, Philippines
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Feature: New technology for the differently-able
Manila (18 November) -- With a vision to help the visually-impaired, The Philippine Daisy Network (PDN) recently introduced Daisy or Digital Accessible Information System, an innovative and ideal reading system that can be readily available to the differently-able.
DAISY said, "the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision".
DAISY was originally developed for people who are unable to read due to disability but it is also designed to benefit all readers including the mainstream population.
Documents that conform to the DAISY standard offer a reading experience that includes synchronized audio and structured text along with images. It supports traditional presentation of images and text but at the same time goes beyond this flat approach to include human narration, powerful navigation, and potential for adding video and animation.
DAISY is expected to start major developments in the information and communication technology that can be beneficial even to publishers, librarians, learning institutions and government and non-government sectors.
The PDN is composed of the Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired, Resources for the Blind, National Library of the Philippines, National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons and the Philippine Printing House for the Blind of the Department of Education (DepEd). (PNA) (UK)
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
OLAT 6.0 - Bringing together Web 2.0 technologies and accessibility
By University of Zurich
Online Educa Berlin 28-30 Nov 2007 - Exhibitor
20-Nov-2007 » Training Press Releases » In early 2008 the learning management system OLAT will come with the major release 6.0.
A new design and improved workflows will be available as an outcome of a comprehensive usability study1. Furthermore OLAT presents its answer to the challenging question, how to ensure accessibility for visually impaired users in a fully "ajaxified" web application: Brasato2, the underlying java development framework of OLAT allows visually impaired users to choose the so called Web 2.a mode, which delivers plain HTML and is therefore fully supported by screen-reader software.
OLAT is the acronym for Online Learning And Training. It is a web application that supports any kind of online learning, teaching, and tutoring with little didactical restrictions. OLAT is open source, and has been developed since 1999 at the University of Zurich and won the MeDiDa-Prix3 in the year 2000. For more information please refer to the OLAT website4 or visit our booth A25 at Online Educa Berlin.
About Online Educa Berlin 2007, November 28 - 30, 2007
Online Educa Berlin 2007 is set to be the key event for the international technology-supported learning and training industry. We have secured an excellent line-up of top international experts, who will cover a range of key topics, bringing together their knowledge and experience from various backgrounds.
For further information about this story, please contact: 
Contact name:    Hans-Jörg Zuberbühler
Contact e-mail:
Contact telephone:   +41 44 6356705
Web site:

Baltimore Sun, Maryland USA
Friday, November 23, 2007
The sightless follow the voice of the Internet
By Jamie Smith Hopkins
Screen-reading software helps blind users navigate the Web as advocates press for greater accessibility
As Michael Bullis sped from one Web page to another in his search for Christmas presents this week, he saw none of them. Blind for most of his life, he has never seen the Internet.
But he doesn't need to. He can hear it.
Screen-reading software has for years translated the visual experience of computers and the Web into one-way conversations for blind users, reading aloud everything from the welcome message on a home page to the instructions for making an online purchase.
Sometimes this works very well, sometimes not at all. If there are no words, there's nothing to read - which means an image with no descriptive text tucked away in the coding is truly invisible.
The Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, calling the Internet a critical part of everyday life that should be fully accessible to the country's 1.3 million legally blind residents, has brought national attention to the issue by coaxing - and occasionally suing - companies to make their sites more screen-reader-friendly.
Last month it won class-action status for a lawsuit against Target Corp., though the company contends that its site is fully accessible.
"I think that more blind Americans will attempt to shop online this Black Friday than ever before, and we hope that they have a better experience," said John G. Paré Jr., executive director for strategic initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind.
Bullis, who isn't involved in the suit, says some sites are a pain. But 99 times out of 100, he can find his way around. He expects to try things several different ways when he's on the prowl for a product or the checkout button. It's one part logic puzzle, one part treasure hunt.
"Hey, the freedom I've got now compared to what I had five years ago or 10 years ago is incredible," said Bullis, an instructor with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland who does as much of his shopping as he can online.
"This is a whole new world, you know? You can talk about whether the cup is half-full or half-empty; in my view, the cup is overflowing."
Bullis, a 54-year-old Baltimore resident, is a self-described geek where computers are concerned. His first was an Apple IIe in 1984; now he has a PC with four hard drives. Over those years, screen-readers have gone from rudimentary to pretty darn intelligent, in his opinion, though computers - and the Internet especially - have also become exponentially more complex.
Bullis took a break from work Monday morning to start his holiday shopping. His goal: Buy three copies of a favorite book for some of the adults on his gift list and find a nice globe for his 5-year-old daughter, Julianna.
A touch typist, he started with the book, typing the name and author into a search engine. As a check against typos, the screen reader's robotic voice repeated the letters out loud at the rat-a-tat-tat pace of an auctioneer on fast-forward. (Bullis keeps the speed at a head-spinning 350 words a minute because that's how fast a good human reader can process text, and he wants to be just as efficient.)
The results from his search appeared. The reader said: "One hundred headings and 428 links." A lot to consider - and that was just the first page.
Bullis uses keystrokes rather than a mouse, since point-and-click does little good if you can't see. The screen-reader software has dedicated keys to help navigate. So he keyed his way past the links unrelated to his search and stopped as the reader announced ""
That sounded promising, he thought. He hit the "Enter" key to go to the Amazon page for the science-fiction book he wants.
"Seven headings and 113 links," the reader told him.
Now for the logic puzzle: Which of those links was the one to buy the book? He tapped the dedicated H key repeatedly to scroll through the headings for clues. "Gift ideas for book lovers," said the reader. "Best books of 2007," said the reader. None of this was getting him where he wanted to go.
He switched to the N key, which moved him to each blank line on the page, to look for new subjects.
"OK, so now they're describing the book," Bullis said, listening to the reader. "And now they've gotten into reviews. I don't really want to review the book, I just want to buy it."
Next step: Search for the word "buy."
"Buy three books, get a fourth free," the reader suggested.
Bullis snorted.
He kept trying. He found "add to wedding registry" - "I don't think so," he said - and "foreword by Kurt Vonnegut," also not helpful. Then, five minutes after he started with the search engine, the reader said the magic word: "Availability."
"Ah, here we go!" he exclaimed, pouncing on it. If he had remembered that was the go-to word, he could have searched for it to begin with.
From there, he picked a candidate from the long used-and-new list. He changed the number of items to buy from one to three. He selected a shipping option, updated his credit-card information, hit "continue" - and then realized the subcontractor he had chosen for the book didn't offer gift wrap.
Ah, well.
Bullis decided to give it a break, search for his daughter's present and come back to Amazon later, since his almost-order would be preserved and he wouldn't have to start from square one. He called the wandering around to get to checkout "a little frustrating," but anyone could have been caught by the gift wrap.
"We're more alike than different," Bullis said of sighted and blind Internet users. "Yeah, my computer talks to me, but after that, I'm a guy who doesn't like to shop and is sometimes overwhelmed by the Web."
Not by the necessity of hearing a visual medium. By all the choices.
"I think that's a complaint that everybody has," he said.
Market Wire (Press Release)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Talking Introduces Commstat CEO-24 Telephone Controlled Thermostat
MINNEAPOLIS, MN--(Marketwire - November 28, 2007) - Talking, a leading provider of specialized temperature control equipment, today announced the release and immediate availability of the Commstat CEO-24 Telephone Controlled Thermostat.
The Commstat CEO-24 is a full featured residential heating/cooling thermostat that can be remotely controlled from any Touch Tone telephone. The primary market for the Commstat CEO-24 is owners or managers of vacation homes, cabins or cottages, and condominiums that are not occupied at all times.
The Commstat CEO-24 gives the vacation home owner or property manager the ability to heat up or cool down their property before they arrive. One telephone call to the vacation home gives the caller the ability to monitor the current temperature of the property and remotely adjust the temperature set point to a level that will provide comfort upon their arrival.
The Commstat CEO-24 features an internal temperature alarm that can automatically dial out to up to three telephone numbers alerting the owner, neighbor or property manager of a heating or cooling system failure. An auxiliary input is also available to connect to an external device such as a water alarm or any other device with dry relay contacts.
The CEO-24 is the second generation of the Commstat family of telephone controlled thermostats. Attractively priced at $325.00, the product is now available for purchase by calling 763-591-9557 or at
About Talking
With offices in Minneapolis, privately held Talking has been supplying specialized comfort control products to the vacation home market for more than five years. In addition, the company also serves the needs of persons who are blind and visually impaired and seniors with accessible talking thermostats. For more information please visit
Harry Cohen
The Retail Bulletin (UK)
Friday, November 30, 2007
Latest Website Rankings of 100 Retailers
By Glynn Davis
After one month off the top spot of the table of the 100 retail websites tested this month Tesco's direct catalogue site pushed rival supermarket Morrisons into second spot as it regained its crown.
The comprehensive list of 100 sites, which includes not only the largest players but also some of the smaller specialist online merchants, has been created by The Retail Bulletin and specialist website testing company SiteMorse that used its automated testing of the first 125 pages of each retailer's site to generate a ranked table.
Lawrence Shaw, founder of SiteMorse, says the Tesco site last month suffered from broken links but these have now been fixed and it has jumped 17 places back to the top of the table with a score of 8.12 out of 10 compared with 5.5 last month. "This demonstrates that it is not rocket science to keep a good website. It just takes good housekeeping to fix it," he says.
Not doing so well is DSG Group, with its Dixons, Curry's and PC World sites all performing particularly badly for a group that sells technology. Dixons stands at 83 in the table while PC World and Curry's prop up the bottom of the table in the bottom two spots.
Shaw says one of the big problems with these sites is that the links that connect them to each other are broken so it is not possible to move from Dixons to PC World via the website links. He says this raises questions about the overall quality of these sites, especially for the Dixons website which only has an online presence and no physical stores.
Adding to its woes is the fact that 53 per cent of its pages do not have the keywords present for search engines to pick up on. And every page fails the accessibility test that checks whether the site is usable by visually impaired people.
Although House of Fraser also fails badly on the accessibility test it has still managed to perform very well this month - having moved up 24 places with a score of 7.44 compared with 4.52 last month. This follows its jump of 21 places last month. "It's a good score and represents a big improvement. The only thing that it now fails on is the accessibility test," says Shaw.
Breaking its score down, it achieves a maximum 10 for functionality, eight out of 10 for code quality, and eight out of 10 for performance. This means that had it sorted out its accessibility and improved its score from zero out of 10 to nearer nine out of 10 then House of Fraser would have topped the table. To improve this situation Shaw says that simply adding ALT tags onto images (to provide a textual description) would make a big difference.
Another disappointment this month was the number of sites that have been excluded as a result of them either been 'down' at the time of testing or because of their reliance on 'assistive' technology, which SiteMorse believes breaks the general "rules of accessibility" of internet sites. Whereas last month Gap was the only exclusion, this month it has been joined by Pets at Home and more surprisingly the heavyweight retailer Boots.
(Full Top 100 rankings table on source page.)
Bad Web Design Proves a Problem for Blind Internet Users
By Kate Hairsine
The combination of the Internet and computer screen reader software means blind people now have more access to written information than ever before. But bad Web design is making accessibility difficult.
A folded white cane lies next to piles of papers and coffee cups on computer programmer Günter Christmann's desk. He is blind and can't actually see the written text on the computer screen in front of him.
Christmann opens up his Internet browser using the keyboard curser and types in the name of the site he wants to visit -- the tap of his fingers accompanied by a fast-talking robotic voice that fastidiously reads every single character displayed on the screen.
Given the amounts of advertisements, pictures, links and headings on a single Internet page, it can sometimes take a while for a blind user to find the actual text that they want. But according to Christmann, even if it does take him longer to find what he wants, it's worth it.
Information on the Net
Previously, if Christmann wanted to read a newspaper, he had to wait for it to be scanned into Braille, which meant the reports were already days old.
"Nowadays, with Internet, I can go to the newspaper or magazine and I can read the newspaper directly," he said.
The Internet has an even more practical side. Before the advent of the Net, Christmann had to wait for someone to scan in his computer manuals so he could do his work.
"Now, I can search with Google and find everything I need," he said. "I can find more information that I ever dreamt of."
There are several types of screen reader software that Europe's 2.7 million blind people can use if they have computer access. Most of these programs can easily switch between the major European languages written in the Roman script.
Sounds good so far, but there are digital roadblocks, such as when German programmers use German expressions to describe drop down boxes and form fields in an English Web site.
This is what Christmann found when he tested the DW-WORLD's English page, a problem he comes across often throughout the Internet. A pure English speaker surfing the page would have been stuck.
New portable software
Christmannn works as a product manager for Baum Retec, a German firm based near the southern German city of Heidelberg specializing in products and services for the blind and visually impaired.
One of the products he supports is MyStick, a screen reader packed into a normal USB stick in U3 technology that is making computers and the Internet even more accessible for the blind.
Because it is portable, MyStick means blind users can log onto any PC running Windows, and start using the programs and surfing the Internet without having to engage in the arduous process of installing software first.
"I can go to a library or an Internet café and plug in MyStick and start using the screen reader," Christmann said. When he's finished, he just takes out the USB stick, and puts it in his pocket.
High-tech electronics
In addition to the screen reader, another piece of equipment that's essential for blind people who use the computer for work is a Braille display. It's made up of a long row of so-called "soft cells" that are each made up of six to eight tiny metal or nylon pins, which are controlled electronically and move up and down to spell out a line of text in Braille. 
"Just because I can hear the words, doesn't mean I know how to write them," explained Anna Courtpozanis, who has been blind since birth (which hasn't stopped her gaining a degree, having a family, and working full-time).
"If I write texts, I need to see if I have made a mistake," she said, as her fingers flew over the Braille line. "At home, I have a computer without Braille and it's more difficult to work there."
Courtpozanis tests Web sites to see how accessible they are for Web For All, a Heidelberg-based non-profit association aiming to reduce barriers for people using the Internet. 
It can take new users a while to learn the numerous keyboard commands that are necessary for using a screen reader or a Braille line. According to Courtpozanis, however, the main barrier to web use is poor Web design.
Descriptive text a must
Pictures are often a barrier because unless a descriptive text is provided, a blind person has no way of knowing whether the image is an unidentified photo or logo, artwork, a link to another page or something else. Videos and animated elements are also problematic for the same reason.
Courtpozanis personally finds online forms particularly annoying simply because they are an unavoidable part of daily existence but often have no description of what particular field is for.
"If I want my daughter's birth certificate but I haven't got time to go to the town where she's born, then I have to do it over the Net, but I can't fill in the forms," she complained.
Courtpozanis and Christmann are both what you would call power Internet users. And both of them are irritated that with all the investment in high-tech software and technology, it's the simple things -- a lack of descriptive words, for instance -- that can render a website meaningless for the blind.
Kate Hairsine

EUROPA (European Union)
Thursday, November 29, 2007
European Commission calls for an all-inclusive digital society 
Reference:  IP/07/1804    Date:  29/11/2007 
Brussels, 29 November 2007
Commission calls for an all-inclusive digital society
Despite technological progress and enhanced competition, more than one in three Europeans are still excluded from fully benefiting from the digital society. Benefits of ?35-85 billion over five years could be generated if society would be made more inclusive, websites more accessible and broadband Internet made available to all EU citizens. Today, the Commission presents its e-Inclusion initiative to Council, calling on Member States to support a number of key actions, including an awareness campaign for 2008 "e-Inclusion, be part of it!" e-Accessibility legislation, similar to that of the USA, is also under consideration.
"In today's society, access to information by all citizens is a right as well as a condition for prosperity. It is neither morally acceptable nor economically sustainable to leave millions of people behind, unable to use Information and Communications Technologies to their advantage" said Viviane Reding EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "With today's initiative, the Commission reinforces its commitment to overcoming digital exclusion in Europe. Progress has been only half as fast as it should be. The Commission is sending today a clear signal to all parties concerned: industry, regulators and governments that we must act together now to ensure a barrier-free information society for all."
In the Commission's view, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) must provide freedom of choice and be designed for use by everyone regardless of their personal or social situation, so reducing social disparities. In a Declaration made in Riga in 2006, EU Ministers committed themselves to clear targets, Eg to halve the gaps in Internet use and in digital literacy, and to achieve 100% accessibility of public websites by 2010 (IP/06/769). Such targets could deliver benefits of ?35-85 billion over five years.
Yet progress remains fragmented and slow, despite such targets and many actions involving public authorities, industry and civil society. Most of the Riga objectives will not be met on time. Accessibility of public websites remains stuck at 5%. Only 10% of people aged over 64 are Internet users while the average in Europe is 47%. Without further intervention, the gap will only be halved in 2015 instead of 2010. The latest assessments conducted for the Commission show that accessibility of websites, communication terminals, TV sets and other ICT remains problematic, with lower-educated, economically inactive and elderly people at the greatest risk of being left behind.
To address the challenge, this European initiative for an all-inclusive society sets out a strategic framework to:
Enable everyone to take part in the information society by bridging the accessibility, broadband and competence gaps.
Accelerate effective participation of those at risk of exclusion, and improve their quality of life.
Integrate e-Inclusion actions in Europe, and so maximise their lasting impact.
During 2008, the Commission will raise awareness through a campaign called "e-Inclusion, be part of it!" This will culminate with a Ministerial Conference towards the end of the year, to demonstrate real progress and to reinforce commitments at all levels.
As well as supporting research and pilots, the Commission will work towards a horizontal legislative approach to make the information society more accessible, to guarantee equal rights and to ensure an effective single market. Several EU Member States (such as the UK, Spain, and Italy) have already started to adopt legislative measures for e-accessibility. In the USA, the "Americans with Disabilities Act" of 1990 led to great improvements, and has recently been applied to on-line services such as websites.
In June 2006, 34 European countries committed to reducing the digital divide by 2010 in the Riga Ministerial Declaration (IP/06/769).
The Commission's i2010 initiative already prioritises e-Inclusion (IP/05/643). This has led to specific actions on: e-Accessibility (IP/05/1144), broadband digital divide (IP/06/340), ICT and ageing (IP/07/831) and e-Skills (IP/07/1286).
On 13 November 2007, the Commission proposed a substantial package of reforms for telecoms legislation in the EU with an explicit objective of giving all EU citizens access to broadband (IP/07/1677).
EE Times Online
Monday, November 26, 2007
Swedish design: upwardly mobile
By George Leopold  
EE Times (11/26/2007 9:00 AM EST) 
Quote: "The company tapped into the local government's large database, developed under its Intelligent Transportation System program, to come up with a mobile-phone-based prototype of a system that could help guide the blind from their homes to, say, the grocery store. "
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Even more than in most countries, it seems that life simply can't be lived here without a mobile phone. The industrious Swedes continue to come up with new ways to use the cell, ranging from helping the blind find their way to outgunning the BlackBerry in delivering mobile e-mail.
A whirlwind tour around Stockholm, its bustling suburbs and one of Sweden's technology hubs to the south, Norrkoping Science Park, revealed a hotbed of development- some of it disruptive, some of it in the category of technologies searching for a solution.
A recurring theme here is moving the Internet to the mobile phone. But that requires squeezing busy Web pages down to tiny, hard-to-read displays. Currently, most pages have to be reworked before they can be displayed on mobile phones, and most look lousy when compared with PC or Mac pages.
One startup (and there are an impressive number of tech startups in Sweden), Mobizoft, has come up with a way to improve the rendering of Web pages on mobile-phone displays.
Founded in 2005, Mobizoft claims its Publish2Mobile tool improves the delivery and presentation of mobile Web pages by leveraging device- and browser-specific data. The tool also offers image compression and conversion. Another Mobizoft product, Content-4Mobile, is being promoted as allowing users to post videos to the Web directly from a mobile phone.
On the road
Scandinavia has been a good test market for the tools, said Mobizoft board chairman Jorma Mobrin. Nevertheless, he and company CEO and tool developer Maria Christensen recently completed a U.S. road show to demonstrate their products to large but unidentified content developers. Those developers are searching for ways to stream video to cell phones in a manner that will approximate the viewing quality of a PC.
Swedish technology companies are also at the forefront of efforts to incorporate navigation into mobile phones. But those efforts go beyond merely guiding a tourist to a restaurant, for instance. The local government in Stockholm wants to replace, or at least augment, the seeing-eye dog with wireless devices that can guide the blind around this exquisite but, in some places, cramped city.
One effort, overseen by a startup called Mobile Sorcery, seeks to combine navigation technology with audio to deliver location-based services for the blind and the elderly. While the challenges faced by the blind in a large city are obvious, Henrik von Shoultz, Mobile Sorcery's vice president of business development, noted that about 10 elderly or disabled citizens get lost in the city on average every day.
The company tapped into the local government's large database, developed under its Intelligent Transportation System program, to come up with a mobile-phone-based prototype of a system that could help guide the blind from their homes to, say, the grocery store. Users enter a key on a handset to determine the best route to a destination. A mobile-phone earpiece tells them in advance when and how much to turn, alerts them to obstacles, and updates them on how far it is to their ultimate destination.
Developers Tomas Upgard, Mobile Sorcery's chief executive, and Antony Hartley, its CTO, quickly realized that GPS navigation can't cut it in modern cities as a tool for guiding pedestrians or bike riders. An accuracy of 4 meters or less is needed to determine, for example, the side of the street on which a pedestrian is walk- ing. That's too precise a measurement for GPS.
Company engineers found that, when used in large cities, consumer GPS data is plagued by multipath problems, causing GPS signals to drift. Their solutions included filtering and a dead-reckoning system to provide users with better position data.
Using an off-the-shelf dead-reckoning system developed for the military by Honeywell that incorporates a gyroscope and compass as a "step counter," Mobile Sorcery engineers tweaked the prototype with internally developed algorithms to make the system more accurate.
Von Shoultz said 12 users are currently testing the prototype system as part of Stockholm's e-Adept program. A product is scheduled to be ready by 2009, he said. The company is also touting a mobile-phone development application called MoSync, a collection of tools designed to ease the growing problem of developing and porting software to mobile devices.

Friday, December 14, 2007

How companies can increase their revenues through accessible websites

Hi everyone!  I'm Heather DeMarco at the business desk and this evening I'd like to share an article with you which I feel can help to make the difference in whether or not you are able to increase your revenues through the Internet. 
According to many experts, the secret lies in you being able to design and develop accessible websites and the following article will give you some very important info.
If after reading this article you'd like to learn more, then please visit  This very enterprising company will help you to design and develop accessible websites that will help you to increase your revenues, reduce your costs, and expand your customer base., UK
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Website accessibility for business dummies: Squiz names the six reasons you should care
By Press Release
Website accessibility for business dummies: Squiz names the six reasons you should care
Squiz, developer of leading enterprise open source CMS, MySource Matrix, today announced the availability of its new report on Web Accessibilty, which suggests that businesses of all sizes are missing simple opportunities to create new leads and generate new sales as a result of neglecting standard web accessibility practices.
The paper outlines six key business cases for implementing web accessibility measures, and how they will help to improve a company's bottom line. In addition, it provides a wealth of information about best practice guidelines from the W3C and how firms can build accessibility into their web production processes at low cost and with a minimum of fuss.
Squiz's six 'business cases' for implementing accessible web sites are:
to generate more site traffic through improved SEO
to create better user experiences, leading to more conversions
to attract and retain a wider audience, including those with disabilities
to reduce ongoing maintenance costs through the use of more flexible technologies
to reduce site development times by creating greater site flexibility
to reduce general legal exposures
The 20 page report is available for download free via Squiz's web site at:
The implementation guidelines, which have been compiled by Squiz's top development team, provide readers with a step-by-step overview of how to best build an accessible web site, including detailed breakdowns on key technology considerations, such as best practices for implementing accessible HTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash and Video. In addition, the paper examines each of the W3C's 'Priority 1' Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) and suggests how they can be satisfied in line with current web technologies.
"Through our work with leading public organizations like The Royal College of Nursing and Oxford University, we've come to learn a thing or two about web accessibility," said Steve Morgan, Managing director at Squiz UK. "And aside from showing firms how it should be done, we can also demonstrate that the benefits of good accessibility are further reaching than most people assume."
"Whilst extending your services to an important audience - the disabled - is critical, we can show you that an accessible site will enhance your SEO, make your site more usable, reduce your ongoing costs and widen your future development choices. Now in my book that's pretty much a 'wish list' for the ideal web site - and this new, free white paper tells you how to do it."
About Squiz
Squiz helps some of the UK's leading organisations to gain more control of their web sites and intranets. For example, Oxford University, The Royal College of Nursing and Future Publishing all use Squiz's MySource Matrix Content Management System. In doing so they're saving money, improving the services they're delivering to users, and gaining more control of their web development. We develop MySource Matrix as an open source product and then provide support services around it to help our clients get more value from their web spend. We're kind of like the Red Hat of the CMS world. Our approach is successful because of the strength of our CMS and our experience in diverse fields. We're also cost-effective because being open source, MySource Matrix costs nothing to acquire or use.

 At the business desk, I'm Heather DeMarco wishing you a very happy weekend filled with lots of shopping and merrymaking.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A very powerful little gem

Good day everyone!  I'm Jeff N Marquis at the business desk and I have a very powerful little gem to share with you.
This article recently came across my desk and I thought that with the holiday season, it would come in great handy for those of you who are inclined towards buying from eBay.
Use RSS to Track eBay with fEEdBaY
By Michael McCarty
Thursday, November 29, 2007
eBay has got to be the hottest place on the net for finding great deals on just about anything. I love to surf the eBay site just to see what's up for grabs at any given moment.eBay does have a lot of links and other material to wade through. This is especially a problem when you're seeing their site through the eyes of JAWS or Window Eyes. Well, life is about to get a lot easier for those of us who love to shop eBay.
I'm happy to introduce you to fEEdBaY, where you can keep track of listed items on eBay through RSS technology.
RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is technology that allows certain programs called RSS readers to download new content from an RSS feed to your computer. RSS feeds are often found on blogs or forums and contain the latest posts to that blog or forum. An RSS feed can also be found on news sites and contains the latest articles found on that site. Just like an email program such as Microsoft Outlook saves you time by checking for new mail for you and downloading it so that you can view it, the RSS reader checks for updates for you and as soon as it sees an update, it will download it to your computer and can notify you by a popup message or dialog, etc.
The first thing you'll notice about the fEEdBaY site is that all the standard eBay catagories are listed. Simply click on the catagory of your choice and you'll be presented with another page full of RSS feeds.
The next section of note is their listing of the most popular feeds. Want to see what others are interested in? Simply add one of these links to your aggrigator and you'll be informed within minutes.
Now, if that weren't enough, there's a "Create a Custom eBay Search Filter for RSS" link that does exactly what it says. Enter your search Keywords, choose the number of results, the eBay catagory, and click the search button. You'll have a chance to preview the feed and if you like what you see, you can add it to your news aggrigator or or RSS reader. How cool is that?
Click this link to start tracking eBay with fEEdBaY:
Posted by Michael McCarty at 11:44 AM
At the business desk, I'm Jeff N Marquis wishing you a very pleasant evening.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Important news for consumers with special needs

Good morning!  I'm Kerry I Harrison at the business desk and it's time for our weekly news round-up for consumers with special needs.  We hope that you are continuing to enjoy our selection of articles.  Each week we strive to bring you news in the worlds of health and technology and we hope that you can use these articles to keep abreast of latest developments.  If you'd like to learn more about how you can reach consumers with special needs through products and services that can offer then please visit
Here now are this week's articles.
Table of contents
December 12 2007
1 The Eyes Have It: A Step Toward Creating Peepers in a Petri Dish
2 TV remote and hands-free phone combo to aid vision impaired
3 Guide in the dark: Unique navigation system allows blind to "dare more"
4 Europe has new counterterrorism weapon: Blind detectives
5 NIST Licenses Systems to Help the Blind 'See' Images
6 Facebook Integrates SpinVox Speech-to-Text Applications
7 TTS Solution Fully Integrated with iPod and iPhone
8 SpeakOn, a very different kind of media player
9 The Dragnifier
10 Robot Suit May Help You Achieve a Perfect Golf Swing

Scientific American
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The Eyes Have It: A Step Toward Creating Peepers in a Petri Dish
By Nikhil Swaminathan
Study fingers a enzyme that jump starts the pathway leading to the generation of eye tissues
Quote: "This work may have interesting implications for the stem cell field"
COMING TO A LAB NEAR YOU:  Researchers identify an enzyme that starts a cascade of cellular events involved in the development of eyes. 
An accidental discovery could pave the way to one day coaxing stem cells to develop into human eyes in the lab.
A team of scientists at the University of Warwick in England studying the development of motility in frogs found that a certain ectoenzyme (a cell-surface protein) injected into a tadpole embryo triggered the development of tissues that eventually form eyes.
Further experimentation led the researchers to conclude that the surface protein is, in fact, an early player in the cellular cascade that leads to eye formation. Researchers say the finding could be harnessed in the future to make an "eye in a dish," a tool that would be invaluable in coaxing stem cells to develop into ocular tissues.
"Our study provides clear discovery of upstream signals controlling a previously known pathway controlling eye development and therefore provides a step closer to being able to manipulate eye development," explains Elizabeth A. Jones, a professor in the university's biological sciences department and a co-author of the study published in Nature.
Ectonucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase 2 (E-NTPDase2) is an ectoenzyme that, along with family members E-NTPDase1 and E-NTPDase3, is known to degrade the chemical compound ATP (adenosine triphosphate) into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) for the purpose of sending messages to cells to change the fleet of proteins they are producing. Primarily, ATP functions as the energy currency of cells but, in some varieties, a tiny amount is secreted into the space between cells, where it latches onto a neighbor to induce particular responses and modulations. Both ATP and ADP, known as purines, can transmit signals to cells that change their developmental activity. The research team found that when it increased levels of E-NTPDase2 in tadpole embryos that consisted of only eight cells, they could cause parts of the eye to form not only on the heads of the amphibians, but also in tissues in other parts of their bodies, including their tails. Minute pulses of ATP are released into extra
 cellular areas mostly by cells in the head where the eyes are supposed to develop. Jones notes that at temporally distinct moments, other cells in the body may expel small packets of ATP, which in the presence of E-NTPDase2 can cause eye tissue to form.
Through many rounds of analysis, both by amplifying and decreasing the levels of certain chemicals as well as knocking out the function of certain genes that code for proteins that regulate eye development (called eye field transcription factors), the scientists determined that E-NTPDase2 (although not E-NTPDase 1 or 3) was the only ectoenzyme that could drive eye development. Further, they determined that it must act early in the pathway that leads to the formation of the eye. After it converts ATP to ADP, the level of the latter accumulates outside the cell and the purine can bind to a purine receptor called P2Y1.
"It is the activation of this receptor that either directly or indirectly turns on the expression of the eye-field transcription factors," Jones says. "We don?t quite know the mechanisms involved between going from the receptor and turning on the genes, and this is an area for future investigation."
Jones and her colleagues believe that most of the eye development pathway is conserved between frogs and humans. Damage to human chromosome 9 (of the cell's 24 pairs) where the gene that codes for E-NTPDase2 resides is known to cause eye and brain defects, such as microphthalmia-literally, small eyes. This means that down the road, researchers might be able to create an "eye in a dish."
"This work may have interesting implications for the stem cell field," says Richard Lang, a professor of developmental biology at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Research Foundation. "The activity of purine signaling in inducing eye field precursors," he says, "might be a very useful tool for the culture dish-generation of progenitor cells for a variety of eye cell types."

From: "BlindNews Mailing List" <>
Gizmag (UK)
Thursday, October 25, 2007
TV remote and hands-free phone combo to aid vision impaired
Designed by a Australian company Tiller + Tiller, the TeleMax®III combines a universal TV remote control and hands free phone in the one device. The unit is sleek, compact, easy to use, unbreakable and spillage proof. Shaped like a small tray with handles either side to allow for easy grip it features the latest ergonomic principles for comfort and function.
Button controls are large, and deliberately limited in number. They consist ofa normal keypad layout 1-9, a mute button, a large power button and sliding arrows for channels and volume control. Buttons have raised black lettering, which stands out well from a white illuminated background face, making them easy to see and use by those with visual and physical disability. The television automatically goes into mute mode when a call is received. Emergency numbers can be programmed for instant access.
TeleMax® will actually be a range of products with models I and II also available. TeleMax® I, the simplest model works as a basic universally programmable TV remote, and TeleMax® II has the same functionality but with an added button to link to and access cable TV.
Crichton has taken out patents for the product in Australia, Europe and USA but it is still in prototype phase while Crichton and Tiller + Tiller find a company to manufacture it. After three long years of research, design and prototyping, they hope the TeleMax range of products will be available worldwide in around 18 months.
Crichton cites figures of over 180 million people worldwide with vision impairments and an aging world population (483 million over 65 years of age) as the potential market for this product. No pricing has been set at this point.
The Prague Post, Czech Republic
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Guide in the dark: Unique navigation system allows blind to "dare more"
By Victor Velek, Staff Writer
For a long time, the blind have not received many benefits from the rapid development of communication technology. Despite advanced navigation systems thriving worldwide, little research has been dedicated to their assistance, prompting continued reliance on long-standing aids: walking canes and guide dogs.But thanks to a unique navigational system for the blind developed at the Czech Technical University (ÈVUT) in Prague, the situation has changed.Combining a satellite-based GPS navigation system, mobile phone communications and a call center, blind people in the Czech Republic can now get immediate assistance whenever they lose orientation or experience unexpected health problems, says ÈVUT researcher Jiøí Chod, the gadget's creator."This system really widens blind people's horizons," says Zdenìk Bajtl, head of the technical department at Czech Blind United (SONS), an association supporting the blind countrywide. "With the device in your pocket, you dare more. It gives you
 a firm belief that you cannot get lost." Bajtl, who is himself blind, stresses that the navigation system is not a replacement for guide dogs - it doesn't offer immediate help for unexpected obstacles like pavement reconstruction, for example."On the other hand, no dog will bring you to the National Library if it has never been there," he says. "This does. . It's a great boost to our freedom, self-confidence and independence."Pocket protectorThe navigation system is quite portable, consisting of a small black box containing a GPS receiver and antenna, a mobile phone modem and a flash drive for data storage.Once activated, the unit sends data on its position to the call center, which is equipped with an intelligent map system. If the user gets lost or needs some guidance, he or she can then ring the call center, based at SONS, and get help from one of the center's staff, Chod says.According to both Chod and Bajtl, the system is a unique solution unparalleled elsewhere in the
 world. "In Spain they tested a similar system but they used automated navigation," Chod says. "We were also considering this option but eventually found the automated synthetic voice distracting and rather unhelpful."Another advantage of the ÈVUT system is its openness, based as it is on standard GPS and GSM technologies, Chod says. It's easily updated, with next-generation technology replacing outdated components. "It's an atypical application of standard technologies," he adds.Although the latest incarnation of the ÈVUT machine can fit in a pocket, the project's beginnings, in 2003, saw a much more cumbersome device."The GPS was so heavy and demanded so much power that you'd have to have one cart to carry the gadget and another to carry its batteries," Chod says with a smile.The project's next generation was less bulky but presented other problems, most notably from those reluctant to wear a prominent external antenna. "Blind people are sensitive about being conspicuous,"
 Chod says. "Some of them were reluctant to wear an alien-looking antenna on their clothes."Today, the device has an internal antenna, and the newest model will feature a camera that can transmit photos to the navigation center, so operators can give more detailed assistance, he adds.Call waitingCurrently, the navigation aid is used by about 35 blind people throughout the country; by the end of the year, that number should be 100, Chod says. And in the near future, it should be accessible to all."We hope that next year the device will be officially recognized as an orientation aid for the blind, making it eligible for state allowances," Bajtl says. Government subsidies will then cover the machine's costs, which run to 13,000 Kè ($680) for the latest and most advanced model.Access to the call center is also open to the visually impaired not on the system, as it offers additional services, Bajtl says. People can ask operators for transport information and detailed itineraries,
 for example.Within the last several months, the center recorded about 350 inquiries, according to Bajtl. Supported by the Vodafone Foundation, the center was launched at the beginning of this year: In September, Vodafone received the Via Bona award for its support of the project."This is the flagship of our foundation," says Inga Kaskelyte, executive director of the Vodafone Foundation. Vodafone has contributed 1.8 million Kè to the project and has earmarked further money for the blind. "It's a long-term project," she says. "And we will continue to support it in the future."
Victor Velek can be reached at
International Herald Tribune
Monday, October 29, 2007
Europe has new counterterrorism weapon: Blind detectives
By Dan Bilefsky
Monday, October 29, 2007
ANTWERP, Belgium: Sacha van Loo, 36, is not your typical cop. He wields a white cane instead of a gun. And from the purr of an engine on a wiretap, he can discern whether a suspect is driving a Peugeot, a Honda or a Mercedes.
Van Loo is one of Europe's newest weapons in the global fight against terrorism and organized crime: a blind Sherlock Holmes, whose disability allows him to spot clues sighted detectives don't see.
"Being blind has forced me to develop my other senses, and my power as a detective rests in my ears," he said from his office at the Belgian Federal Police, where a bullet-riddled piece of paper from a recent target-shooting session was proudly displayed on the wall. "Being blind also requires recognizing your limitations," he added with a smile, noting that a sighted trainer guided his hands during target practice "to make sure no one got wounded."
Van Loo, a slight man who has been blind since birth, is one of six blind police officers in a pioneering unit specializing in transcribing and analyzing wiretap recordings in criminal investigations. An accomplished linguist who taught himself Serb Croat for fun, he laments that he is not entitled to carry a gun on the job or make arrests. But such is his acute sense of hearing that Paul van Thielen, a director at the Belgian Federal Police, compares his powers of observation to those of a "superhero."
When police eavesdrop on a suspected terrorist making a phone call, van Loo can listen to the tones dialed and immediately identify the number. By hearing the sound of a voice echoing off of a wall, he can deduce whether a suspect is speaking from an airport lounge or a crowded restaurant. After the Belgian police recently spent hours struggling to identify a drug smuggler on a faint wiretap recording, they concluded he was Moroccan. Van Loo, who has a "library of accents in his head," listened and deduced he was Albanian, a fact confirmed after his arrest.
"I have had to train my ear to know where I am. It is a matter of survival to cross the street or get on a train," he said. "Some people can get lost in background noise, but as a blind man I divide hearing into different channels. It is these details that can be the difference between solving and not solving a crime."
Grappling with his handicap, he says, also has given him the thick emotional skin necessary for dealing with the job's stresses. "I have overheard criminals plotting to commit murder, drug dealers making plans to drop off drugs, men beating each other up. Being blind helps not to let it get to me because I have to be tough."
The blind police unit, which became operational in June, originated after van Thielen heard about a blind police officer in the Netherlands, and was looking at ways to improve community outreach. He made the connection that blind people could prove more adept than the sighted at listening to and interpreting wiretaps. That idea, he says, was given added impetus after the Belgian government passed a law a few years ago giving the police extended powers to use wiretaps in the investigation of 37 areas of crime, including terrorism, murder, organized crime and the abduction of minors.
The police also recognized that blind officers like van Loo could be particularly valuable in counterterrorism investigations because wiretap recordings - derived from a phone tap or bug placed in the safe house of a terrorist group - are often muffled by loud background noise, requiring a highly trained ear to discern voices. Alain Grignard, a senior counterterrorism officer at the Brussels Federal Police, notes that wiretaps proved instrumental in the recent arrests of a large terrorist cell in Belgium recruiting for the insurgency in Iraq.
Beyond his keenly developed ears, van Loo is also a trained translator who speaks seven languages, including Russian and Arabic - a skill Grignard said makes him indispensable, since his knowledge of accents can help him to differentiate between, say, an Egyptian or Moroccan suspect. "You need every edge in a terrorism investigation, and a blind officer with languages could be a powerful weapon."
The Belgian police say they were amazed at the number of qualified blind applicants for the posts. Scoring high marks on a hearing test was a prerequisite for the job, as was being at least 33 percent blind. Van Thielen, the police chief, says he was forced to turn away dozens of applicants whose sight was too good, including one "blind" man who shocked police recruiters by arriving at his interview in a car.
Recruiting blind people posed other challenges, van Thielen recalls. Because they would be used almost exclusively for wiretap investigations and the force did not want to expose them to dangerous situations, they were given special status under a 2006 law tailored for forensic work that grants civilians some police powers, but forbids them from making arrests or carrying guns.
Van Thielen, a no-nonsense police veteran, also faced some resistance from other veterans on the force, who feared that having blind colleagues would be a burden. Others felt awkward about how to behave in front of blind people and wondered if saying "au revoir" - literally "see you again" - would cause offense. To assuage their concerns, van Thielen arranged for sensitivity training sessions with blind volunteers. One hint: don't leave computer cables trailing on the floor since blind officers could trip on them.
"At first when members of the police heard that blind people were coming to work here, they laughed and told me that we were a police force and not a charity," said van Thielen. "But attitudes changed when the blind officers arrived and showed their determination to work hard and be useful."
It wasn't only attitudes that needed updating. In addition to installing elevators with voice-activated buttons at the police station, the force issued each blind officers with a special ?10,000 computer equipped with Braille keyboards, and a voice system that transmits visual images into sound.
As van Loo transcribed a wiretap recording on a recent day, he wore earphones and passed his index finger over a long strip of Braille characters on the bottom of the keyboard, whose characters altered to replicate whatever was on his computer screen, which was turned off. When he goes outside, he carries a compact police-issued global positioning system device, with a voice that directs him to his destination, street by street.
A father of two, van Loo attributes his success to having parents who taught him at an early age to be independent. He recalls that, as a young child, his father, a film buff, took him to watch movies. His father also taught him to drive a car by hoisting him on his lap and guiding his hands on the steering wheel. His ability to adapt, he says, was further reinforced by his attending a regular high school. He also attended a special school for the blind, where he learned how to maneuver with a cane and to read Russian in Braille. To relax, he skis, rides horses and plays the Arabic lute.
"My parents accepted my blindness, which also helped me to accept it," he said. "That they were not risk averse also helped."
Cindy Gribomont, head of training at the Brussels-based Braille League, an institute for the blind that helped the police with recruiting, says that overcoming employers' prejudices is her greatest challenge. "Employers need to be encouraged because they are afraid of employing handicapped people."
Van Loo, for his part, says he remains determined not to let his handicap overwhelm him. "Being blind isn't always very easy," he said. "I don't focus on it. I don't deny it. But it is rather tragic that a blind policeman is still viewed as an exception."

Monday, October 29, 2007
NIST Licenses Systems to Help the Blind 'See' Images
Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Released: Mon 29-Oct-2007, 08:00 ET
A recently completed licensing agreement for two novel National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) technologies may help bring affordable graphic reading systems for the blind and visually impaired to market. The two systems bring electronic images to life in the same way that Braille makes words readable. 
CAption: NIST Researchers John Roberts (right) and Oliver Slattery (left) using the tactile graphic display device to depict the NIST logo. 
Newswise - A recently completed licensing agreement for two novel National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) technologies may help bring affordable graphic reading systems for the blind and visually impaired to market. The two systems bring electronic images to life in the same way that Braille makes words readable.
ELIA Life Technology Inc. of New York, N.Y., licensed for commercialization both the tactile graphic display device and fingertip graphic reader developed by NIST researchers. The former, first introduced as a prototype in 2002, allows a person to feel a succession of images on a reusable surface by raising some 3,600 small pins (actuator points) into a pattern that can be locked in place, read by touch and then reset to display the next graphic in line. Each image-from scanned illustrations, Web pages, electronic books or other sources-is sent electronically to the reader where special software determines how to create a matching tactile display. (For more information, see "NIST 'Pins' Down Imaging System for the Blind" at
An array of about 100 small, very closely spaced (1/10 of a millimeter apart) actuator points set against a user's fingertip is the key to the more recently created "tactile graphic display for localized sensory stimulation." To "view" a computer graphic with this technology, a blind or visually impaired person moves the device-tipped finger across a surface like a computer mouse to scan an image in computer memory. The computer sends a signal to the display device and moves the actuators against the skin to "translate" the pattern, replicating the sensation of the finger moving over the pattern being displayed. With further development, the technology could possibly be used to make fingertip tactile graphics practical for virtual reality systems or give a detailed sense of touch to robotic control (teleoperation) and space suit gloves.
The inspiration for both NIST graphic displays came from a "bed of nails" toy found in a novelty store. Watching the pins in the toy depress under fingers and then return to their original state started the researchers thinking about how the principle could be applied to electronic signals.
Persons interested in licensing these or other NIST technologies should contact Terry Lynch, NIST Office of Technology Partnerships,, (301) 975-2691.
Speech Technology Magazine
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Facebook Integrates SpinVox Speech-to-Text Applications
By Lauren Shopp
  The online social networking community Facebook and Microsoft have a lot in common: college dropouts founded both companies, each started with a shoestring budget, and both have shown interest in speech applications.
While Microsoft has enabled speech solutions in many of its software products, Facebook will join the company in its launch of SpinVox's speech-to-text (STT) applications. Microsoft should note the announcement, as it follows the company's announcement today that it has purchased a $240 million share (a 1.6 percent stake) in Facebook. The networking site's estimated worth is approximately $15 billion, according to market research firm eMarketer.
England-based SpinVox's STT applications allow Facebook users to update their status (a message on their profile screen that tells users' friends what they are doing); write on a 'wall' (comment boards), send messages to other users, and post blog-like 'note' entries to their profiles. The deal gives SpinVox an edge in the social network industry and has the potential to expose the company's technology to Facebook's 15 million registered users. Daniel Dulton, SpinVox's chief strategy officer and cofounder, explains, however, that a free version of the STT application will be available to a limited number of users during early deployment stages.
"We're offering an introductory three-month free trial period to the first 10,000 users, after which we'll announce our plans to commercialize the service," he says. "One of the things we've noticed is that while people find it easy to understand the idea of speaking text, it is only once they have started to use it that they really appreciate just how much benefit they get from our services, so it's important that they are able to try it for free and see how it integrates with their lifestyle."
His statements echo what could be a hurdle for SpinVox to overcome: achieving strong adoption rates among Facebook's core audience of college students. While many Facebook users have mobile phones, the question of whether they will want to update their profiles through the service remains unclear. The site's strong visual elements (user photos, profile information, friend updates, and extra applications) draw many users to Facebook in the first place; an STT application does not allow users to view visual information. But, Dulton says, the users' ability to update their profile anywhere, at any time, is what will attract users to the service.
"It is compelling to be able to share the emotion as it happens, just by saying it and not having to wait until they're back at a PC and online," he says in reference to the company's Blogging Through SpinVox application.
Further, Dulton cites an 80 percent user retention rate among users of its Text Through SpinVox product, explaining that, while users may be reluctant initially, the application's sheer convenience will make users stay with the service. For the Facebook venture, Dulton says SpinVox will depend largely on user feedback and word-of-mouth to market its product, and hope it catches on.
"We're keen to let the community decide how best to share this service," he states. "We will be working with the community and the hosts themselves to make this as simple to get and use as possible."
Speech Technology Magazine
Thursday, October 18, 2007
TTS Solution Fully Integrated with iPod and iPhone
By Lauren Shopp
  The push for including speech applications in the iPhone and iPod won a small victory today. Polish text-to-speech company IVO Software announced that the newest version of its TTS software, Expressivo 1.3, would be the first application of its type to be fully integrated with iPods.
The software, which can come with one of three languages (English, Romanian, and Polish) and four personas, also works with other MP3 players, cell phones, and PDAs.
Expressivo converts both short and long texts, converting the translated text into an audio file that is automatically added to the iTunes library. The company claims the software's new functions accelerate audio file creation. The software can be used for work-related (reading emails, RRS feeds, or scheduled events from a calendar) or study-related (listening to lecture notes or aiding in the study of a foreign language) activities.
And, with more than 100 million iPod and nearly 1 million iPhone users, the company hopes Expressivo will make a strong case for speech technology in
the two Apple products.
Powered by IVO Software's IVONA TTS, Expressivo audio files can also be sent via email or published online. So far, the product has had the most sales in the business world, particularly telecommunications and customer service centers, and in the rehabilitation of the blind. But, with a pricetag of $29, the company hopes Expressivo will pick up greater steam in the commercial marketplace.
The Blond - a Blind Blog
Sunday, October 28, 2007
SpeakOn, a very different kind of media player
By vip_uc
October 28th, 2007 Time: 11:58 pm
If you haven't tried it already, could I recommend you try a very different kind of media player.
Called SpeakOn, it's free and can play a wide variety of audio, includig radio stations and feeds from
If you're blind, you won't need to struggle with the interface, multiple players or elaborate key sequences. You won't have the worry of a complicated visual front end, because SpeakOn hasn't got one.
What it has got is a self-voicing menu system and now, in the the latest version, a simplified system of single key commands. If you like, you can operate the whole thing from a remote wireless numeric keypad while you take a rest.
There's support from clear documentation and a Yahoo! group hosted by Isaac Porat, who wrote Speakon.
For more info and downloads, please visit...
And the Yahoo! group is at...
Of course, because of Yahoo's dreaded CAPTCHA system, you might find it easier to subscribe by e-mail, in which case send a blank e-mail to
Enjoy the music!
The BAT!
The Fred's Head Companion (APH)
Monday, October 29, 2007
The Dragnifier
By Michael McCarty
Have you ever had to squint at the screen to see what's there? Do you create graphics for a living, and need accuracy? Do all those tiny icons get lost on your desktop?
The "Quick Dragging Magnifier" (or Dragnifier) is just what you need. One click or keypress will bring up a computerized lens, which lets you see every last detail on your screen at 2x, 4x, even 8x the original size. When you're not using the magnifier, you won't even notice it. An icon rests next to your system clock, ready to hop to service whenever you need the Dragnifier.
Dragnifier has been demonstrated as an excellent tool for those with sight disabilities. Sometimes a website will include very small print, or sometimes the icons on today's programs are too small to see clearly.
If you're laying out web pages or other graphic arts, having a measuring tool can be handy. Dragnifier's reticule helps you line up items or compare their sizes quickly.
Click this link to learn more about the Dragnifier.
Posted by Michael McCarty at 12:02 PM
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Robot Suit May Help You Achieve a Perfect Golf Swing
By Lisa Zyga
Published: 13:59 EST, October 31, 2007
Quote "visual feedback may not even be necessary with the wearable feedback suit, giving it the potential to be used as a training device for blind individuals"
Caption: A robotic feedback suit: markers on the right arm indicate the joints that are regulated by the system. Credit: Lieberman and Breazeal. ©2007 IEEE.
Researchers have developed a vibrotactile feedback suit to help individuals learn new motor skills more quickly and accurately than by mimicking human teachers alone. Besides golf, dance and sports training, the suit may also be useful for individuals undergoing motor rehabilitation after neurological damage, as well as for posture improvement.
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MIT researchers Jeff Lieberman and Cynthia Breazeal have published the results of the study in a recent issue of IEEE Transactions on Robotics. The study presents a proof-of-concept wearable robotic system that provides real-time tactile feedback over every joint simultaneously.
 "Oddly enough, the idea for the robot suit initially came from a dream," Lieberman told "The dream involved people who weren't physically able to express themselves, but who were mentally normal, who used a machine that aided them to get their inner feelings out. This ranged from people with muscular difficulties to even toddlers and 'untrained' people who do not know how to wield a paintbrush. Upon waking and thinking about that idea for about an hour, the idea for this project was born, and I started doing research that day; the overall project was about six months for software and hardware development."
In experiments with arm motions, the researchers found that the suit increased students' learning rates by up to 23%, and reduced errors by up to 27%, as well as enabling students to learn movements "more deeply" by affecting their subconscious learning of motor skills. The latter can be especially important for patients with neurological injuries who have lost the ability to form new long-term memories, but can still build new motor skills.
The suit works by optically tracking body markers for the teacher's movement (or a pre-recorded ideal movement) and the student's movement with a Vicon motion capture system, which has millimeter accuracy. The tracking data is fed to software that compares the teacher's and student's movements, and generates feedback signals to the suit.
"The most challenging part was the human motion tracking system, which needs to function extremely quickly [about 100 hz] and be extremely accurate [about 1mm] to be able to adequately represent complex human motions," Lieberman explained. "The system we use is a very expensive one for very high-tech applications, and for this to be successful in the real world it has to be much less expensive, and very robust. Tracking systems are typically optical [needing a setup in the room] or exoskeleton-style [wearable] which results in high expense and high weight, respectively. We'd like to solve both those at the same time and are working on new possibilities, although it is not the main focus of the research."
Small actuators against the skin vibrate in proportion to the amount of positional error of the student's joints, giving the sensation of a vibrating "force field" around the correct motion. The suit can also correct for rotational errors of joints by sequentially vibrating individual actuators placed around joints clockwise or counterclockwise, giving the sensation that a rotating signal is urging the joint to rotate.
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Because everyone has different physical proportions, the system must first spend 10 minutes calibrating a new user's limb lengths and joint locations, and then match them to the teacher's proportions. Once a teacher's motions are tracked, they can be recorded, repeated, and played at different speeds.
As the researchers explain, the system has the potential to teach a student the precise motions of a teacher in place of the teacher. The system could therefore work well for teachers who are highly skilled, but are not good at teaching, by physically guiding a student who can simultaneously watch the teacher or a pre-recorded motion for visual feedback. However, visual feedback may not even be necessary with the wearable feedback suit, giving it the potential to be used as a training device for blind individuals.
"The biggest initial market is in a sport such as golf, which already spends millions annually on video analysis machines, which tell the student exactly what they need to change," Lieberman said. "But it tells them after they're done, and decades of motor learning research tells us that students will learn much more quickly if the feedback is given immediately with no delay. Imagine how easy improving your swim stroke would be if you didn't need to lift your head out of the water to improve it; after about 100 strokes, you'd be mimicking your teacher almost exactly."
He also explained that the health industry represents an equally, if not more exciting, opportunity. People with neurological trauma might use the suit for remapping their brains, and people with back pain could train their muscles with correct posture.
"We are developing a new system using this technology that will monitor your posture and give you vibrotactile cues to keep yourself sitting properly," Lieberman said. "Typically people only realize their posture is bad once pain starts, so this would give immediate feedback to prevent any pain, and retrain those who have already developed back pain. We should be running tests on this new device early next year. You can imagine having one suit, and 10 people each wearing it one week out of 10, to retrain their posture; the retraining of muscles should have a long-lasting effect, greatly helping those with back pain."
Before some of the complex motions- like a golf swing-are tested, however, the researchers say improvements are needed on the robot suit. These include creating a full-body suit with more than 100 actuators, defining ideal marker placement, investigating the human ability to respond to large amounts of feedback, and finding a less expensive and more mobile tracking system.
"With the golf swing, the difficulty lies not only in the fact that you need to monitor many more joints, but also that the mapping from teacher to student is much harder to clearly define," Lieberman explained. "In our tests, the mapping explicitly told the subject to try to copy the angles the teacher was making. In golf, it is more important that the end of the club contact the ball, and copying normal angles from someone taller than you will result in the club going into the ground, so it's very difficult to map that."
Related information:
Citation: Lieberman, Jeff and Breazeal, Cynthia. "TIKL: Development of a Wearable Vibrotactile Feedback Suit for Improved Human Motor Learning." IEEE Transactions on Robotics, Vol. 23, No. 5, October 2007.
At the business desk, I'm Kerry J Harrison wishing you a pleasant day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A really great niche idea

Hello there!  I'm Matt Chadwick at the business desk and I'd like to spark your imaginations on this very slippery December evening.  It all has to do with using your imaginations to develop an idea that is niche, has lots of potentials to attract attention from a wide sector of the market, and an idea that has the potential to blow your competition out of the water. I found this article last week and just loved it.  So, give a read to it and see what you think.  If you need some more motivation to spark your imagination after reading this article then by all means, visit and there you'll find lots of great ideas on the newsletters page and the top business strategies page.
Now for the article.

Conde Nast Portfolio, NY, USA
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Bold Bottles: Wine labels talk, glow, and shock.
By Sharon Kapnick 
How to stand apart from the other 99,999 wines? With labels that talk, glow, and shock.
Extract: "Michel Chapoutier's Rhône Valley wines have had braille on their labels since 1996. There are even talking bottles-several high-end Brunello di Montalcino producers have had chips embedded in their labels so that "each wine can explain itself in the first person," according to Daniele Barontini, owner of Modulgraf, the Italian company that creates them. "
Winemakers have but a few square inches in which to encourage a sale. And until recently, most filled that real estate with sober images-stately châteaus, humdrum landscapes, intricate crests-meant to convey the refined nature of what was inside.
But several factors have conspired to push wine labels in a new direction. The modern attitude toward wine is more casual and less elitist; in Australia, Cassella Wines' Yellow Tail has seen phenomenal success with the wallaby "critter" on its packaging; and not least, there are now more than 100,000 wines currently available in the U.S., according to wine-industry consultants Gomberg Fredrikson & Associates.
To make their products stand out, many winemakers are taking clever, daring, and sometimes even radical approaches to labeling. They're putting as much attention into what's on the bottle as what's in it, turning to labels that shout "Buy me!" or, in some cases, "Touch me!"
Mollydooker, an Australian company known for its rich, intense wines, learned that buyers are "much more likely to purchase a wine they actually touch on the shelf," says Alicia Kelley Raymond, its U.S. director of marketing. Hence, what's attached to Mollydooker's flagship Velvet Glove Shiraz, made in outstanding years only, is, well, a black velvet glove.
While it has one of the more unusual labels, Mollydooker isn't the only company getting creative with its packaging. To commemorate its 130th anniversary, Veuve Clicquot used exotic ostrich, alligator, and stingray skins on its limited-edition Yellow Label Champagne. Napa Valley's Carneros della Notte labels glow in the dark. Michel Chapoutier's Rhône Valley wines have had braille on their labels since 1996. There are even talking bottles-several high-end Brunello di Montalcino producers have had chips embedded in their labels so that "each wine can explain itself in the first person," according to Daniele Barontini, owner of Modulgraf, the Italian company that creates them. Finally, if none of these labels appeal, wineries such as New York's Millbrook Vineyards let consumers create their own.
Though winemakers must take on the expense-and time-involved in designing such labels, they often cost only slightly more than conventional stickers. (One winemaker said they're cheaper than the better-quality labels he uses on his more expensive wines.) Even the Mollydooker Velvet Glove Shiraz label costs just $1.43, close to the $1.20 price of the cork. Many winemakers, though, are simply using playful labels that don't add any extra expense.
The wines can be terribly serious, if the packaging isn't. Mollydooker, which is owned and run by husband-and-wife team Sparky and Sarah Marquis, has earned ratings in the 90s-many of them actually 99s-from wine critic Robert Parker and influential wine magazines.
"We put as much thought into the designs of our labels as we do into our wines themselves," Sarah Marquis says. "We want the whole experience with Mollydooker to be fun, rewarding, stimulating, and memorable."
Other labels feature illustrations of Sarah playing her violin or of Sparky racing on his scooter or fumbling as a maître d'. Daughter "Gigglepot" Holly and son "Blue Eyed Boy" Luke have their moments, too. Mollydooker also created labels that are written sideways so shoppers have to turn the bottles horizontally to read them. Small, perforated informational tabs can be torn off the back labels to make it easier to find the wine again.
 Among the other Australians in the vanguard of the eye-catching label craze is Wayne Anderson, owner and winemaker of Killibinbin (from an Aboriginal word meaning "to shine"). "My old, plain, simple labels were getting lost on the shelves," Anderson says. "It was time for a change, so I figured I might as well do something completely different, something that doesn't look like a conventional wine label at all." After he opted for shocking images that resemble horror-movie posters, with women screaming and a man being choked, business-and buzz-picked up. Sales in Australia doubled, and in the U.S. his wines sold twice as fast. Killibinbin went from producing 400 cases a year in 1997 to 5,000 cases currently.
Aussie winemaker Some Young Punks also went for the dramatic, choosing seedy pulp-paperback-cover-style images for its labels, depicting young women in various states of undress. The wines are called Quickie, Naked on Roller Skates, The Fire in Her Eyes, and Passion Has Red Lips. "We need you to see us," its website explains, "and we don't have lineage, or tithe-not even a family crest to take up the paper on the glass."
Clark Smith has a day job at Vinovation, a wine-production consulting firm in Sonoma Valley, California, coaching 1,200 winemakers. He also crafts wines for two of his own labels, WineSmith and CheapSkate. He thinks packaging should tell consumers what to expect, ensure that they remember the wine, and endear the product to them. "We use whimsy," he says. "CheapSkate-they're gonna remember that. And the labels [convey] that you can get really high-quality wine that's not famous for a cheap price."
At the business desk, I'm Matt Chadwick wishing you a very pleasant evening.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The travel industry missing out on some very hidden and potentially lucrative opportunities

Hey there!  I'm Alix Shadonnay at the business desk and I'd like to kick-start the week with a message for the travel industry.  This is not the first time that we here at the business desk have sent this message to the travel industry.  I hope that someone out there is paying attention.
The travel industry is either not paying attention or choosing to ignore a very growing group of very influential consumers.  Consumers who are becoming more and more vocal when it comes to what they demand and why.  For the travel industry it would be in their best interest to pay close attention to the following article that I'm going to publish because if they don't start paying attention, much sooner rather than later they may find themselves facing hefty law suits from these vocal consumers.  For those of you out there who are aspiring to become travel agents, this may be your chance to read this article and use it to design and develop those types of services that these consumers are demanding.
Here now is the article.

 Disabled: 'Not Allowed To Book With Web Site', New Zealand, November 14, 2007
"You're Not Allowed To Book With Our Web Site", Pacific Blue Tells Disabled
While many New Zealanders applaud the cheaper airfares resulting from
Pacific Blue's arrival this week, disabled people are wondering how it's
possible, or legal, for the airline to treat them as second class citizens
in 2007.
Jonathan Mosen is a Vice-President of an American IT company. He travels
frequently on many airlines worldwide for his work. He is based in New
Zealand, and is totally blind.
Mosen uses software and hardware that makes his computer talk and display
information in Braille, so he can use the Internet. But he says he was
shocked and outraged to find that Pacific Blue's website explicitly says
that because he is blind, he is not allowed to book on the web site.
"I book many domestic flights on a variety of airlines, particularly in the
US," Mosen says. "But never before have I come across a site that says
because I'm blind, I am not allowed to use the web site and must book
through the call centre."
Mosen says he raised his concerns with a supervisor at the Pacific Blue Call
Centre, who told him that that's the way it was and it wasn't going to
"She told me that the airline wants to make sure everything goes smoothly,"
Mosen said. "Yet I fail to see how telling a call centre operator I'm blind
is going to make my journey go any smoother than me conveying that same
information via a web site."
While acknowledging that Pacific Blue is offering Internet fares to disabled
people who book via their call centre, Jonathan Mosen says it's a question
of convenience and equal access. "They're just making me go through utterly
unnecessary hoops to do what every other Internet user is doing. It seems to
me Pacific Blue are acting illegally under New Zealand's Human Rights
legislation, by preventing me from making a booking in the same way that I
can with other airlines, and in the manner that the majority of New
Zealanders are able to use."
Jonathan Mosen says that the Pacific Blue situation is an extraordinary one.
"Occasionally, we have issues because a web site is designed in such a way
that it's difficult for technology used by the blind to work with the site.
But in the case of Pacific Blue, the site is very useable, it's just that
the airline threatens not to honour the bookings of disabled travellers if
they book using the website. I am already aware of one blind person who has
innocently made a booking on the web unaware of the draconian conditions the
airline imposes. If they refuse to carry him for the sin of using their web
site, it will be interesting to see if the Human Rights Commission steps
in," Mosen said.
Jonathan Mosen is calling for Pacific Blue to handle the bookings of
disabled passengers in the same way other airlines do, and for the Human
Rights Commission to intervene if immediate change isn't forthcoming.
"Every other airline I've ever booked with has allowed me to tell them via
the web that I am blind and will require assistance to and from my flight.
This isn't rocket science, every other airline is doing it. Pacific Blue has
got to stop treating blind people, deaf people, and wheelchair users like
second class citizens, and allow us to book via the website just like
everyone else," Mosen concluded.
The Pacific Blue requirements for "special needs" passengers may be found at
 If you'd like to learn more about other types of business opportunities then please visit
At the business desk, I'm Alix Shadonnay wishing you a very pleasant evening.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Some important tips for the Christmas holidays

Greetings everyone!  I'm Jayna Sheffield at the business desk and I'd like to end the week with a few tips for you when you go shopping be it on the Internet or anywhere else.
You may find that some of these tips are already familiar to you but nevertheless it does not hurt to mention a few of them.  So, here they are.
First, when you use your credit card to make your purchases, do not give out the three digit security code to any unauthorized person except for the merchant themselves.  That three digit code is extremely important when it comes to protecting you from scammers and identity thieves.  That three digit code is only meant for you to know and you alone so guard its identity with your life.
Second, be ware of all of those long distance companies trying to attract your attention.  In this very busy Christmas season, they are all out there on the prowl trying to win customers and if you're in the market for a long distance carrier, be very careful when reading the fine print before you sign anything.
Third, with all of the sales going on, pay particular attention to the policy of the merchant.  That is, some of them may have such stipulations as no refunds will be given.  Final sales.  Refund can only be given with a certain time period.  Example, 15 days, or 30 days.
Fourth, when you buy your Christmas tree make sure that you get what you pay for and this applies to those very beautiful pine trees.  Make very sure that you get what you pay for and that no corners are being cut on the part of the merchant.
Fifth, when you shop online, and if you're hoping to receive your purchases before Christmas, make very sure that the company guarantees that it will be at your house before Christmas.  With the very busy Christmas season, I can tell you most emphatically that many companies may not be able to guarantee delivery before Christmas due to the heavy overload on the postal system.
Sixth and finally and for our Canadian cousins, when you place your order and even before you place your order, make very sure that delivery to Canada is guaranteed.  Many companies in the United States do not deliver to Canada for some reason.
Okay, that's it.  I hope that I've given you some useful tips for your shopping trips. 
Before I leave you, our resident expert and associate Donna J Jodhan would like to share a very Christmas-like story with you.  Donna J Jodhan is a very successful special needs business consultant and despite being blind, she has managed to overcome many challenges.  Donna J Jodhan is just not your ordinary business consultant.  She is an author, an accomplished ice skater, and is presently working on becoming a grand master chess player.  If you'd like to learn more about Donna J Jodhan then visit
Now, here is her story of the week.
Hi there!  Thank you Jayna for your introduction.  This week I'd like to share a story about someone who has not allowed his blindness to get in the way of him spreading joy.  I'd like you to meet someone who is using his talents to become a successful toymaker.
Here now is his story.

Red Bluff Daily News, CA, USA
Friday, November 09, 2007
Toymaker likes to see kids smile
Article Last Updated: 11/09/2007 08:13:45 AM PST
RED BLUFF ­ After being declared legally blind by doctors in 2002, Charles Eden could have given up, but instead, he chose to spread happiness by simply giving to others.  Eden, 70, of Red Bluff, worked as a steel millwright for Sierra Pacific Industries in Richfield for nearly 40 years. He said he has always had a love for building, which started in his seventh-grade woodshop class.
Eden said though steel was his main media, woodwork was always in the back of his mind as something he wanted to pursue. To look at his work, one would never know that Eden had only been working with wood for the past year.
Eden was diagnosed with diabetes in 1980, and despite watching the disease closely, he developed macular degeneration as a result.
Eden's wife, Dori, said many people would use such a handicap as an excuse to give up, but Charles uses his free time to give back.
"The Lord made me this way for a reason, and I want to make something positive out of it," Charles Eden said.
Charles and Dori were married five years ago, only a month after Charles was diagnosed legally blind. Dori Eden said finding out about his condition left her with a serious decision to make regarding their upcoming wedding.
"I just decided life was much better with him than without him," Dori Eden said.
Dori Eden said her husband's will to press on and give to others makes her life better and better each day.
Naturally, Charles Eden does not sing his own praises nearly as loudly as his
adoring wife does. Charles Eden's reasons for giving to others, especially children, are far less complicated. 
Charles Eden said he gives toys to kids and expects nothing in return.
Because of his diabetes, Charles and Dori Eden visit hospitals on a regular basis. Both of them said there are few doctors and nurses at those hospitals who have not received a wooden car or truck of their own.
But Charles Eden said he most enjoys giving the toys to children both at the hospitals and in his neighborhood.
"I just like to see them smile," Eden said. "If I can help them to be a little happier, I am going to do it."
In the last four months, Charles Eden has made more than 1,500 toys, most of which will be given away at the Recycle the Warmth event that will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Bethel Church, 625 Luther Road in Red Bluff.
Information about the event is available from Senia Owensby at the Daily News by calling 527-2151.
Staff writer Stevie Ipsen can be reached at 527-2153, extension 114 or
The Red Bluff Daily News is pleased to let readers post comments about an article at the end of the article. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your full name and city when commenting.
Please note: It may take several minutes before your comment appears.
Red Bluff Daily News, CA, USA
Friday, November 09, 2007
Toymaker likes to see kids smile
Article Last Updated: 11/09/2007 08:13:45 AM PST
RED BLUFF ­ After being declared legally blind by doctors in 2002, Charles Eden could have given up, but instead, he chose to spread happiness by simply giving to others.  Eden, 70, of Red Bluff, worked as a steel millwright for Sierra Pacific Industries in Richfield for nearly 40 years. He said he has always had a love for building, which started in his seventh-grade woodshop class.
Eden said though steel was his main media, woodwork was always in the back of his mind as something he wanted to pursue. To look at his work, one would never know that Eden had only been working with wood for the past year.
Eden was diagnosed with diabetes in 1980, and despite watching the disease closely, he developed macular degeneration as a result.
Eden's wife, Dori, said many people would use such a handicap as an excuse to give up, but Charles uses his free time to give back.
"The Lord made me this way for a reason, and I want to make something positive out of it," Charles Eden said.
Charles and Dori were married five years ago, only a month after Charles was diagnosed legally blind. Dori Eden said finding out about his condition left her with a serious decision to make regarding their upcoming wedding.
"I just decided life was much better with him than without him," Dori Eden said.
Dori Eden said her husband's will to press on and give to others makes her life better and better each day.
Naturally, Charles Eden does not sing his own praises nearly as loudly as his
adoring wife does. Charles Eden's reasons for giving to others, especially children, are far less complicated. 
Charles Eden said he gives toys to kids and expects nothing in return.
Because of his diabetes, Charles and Dori Eden visit hospitals on a regular basis. Both of them said there are few doctors and nurses at those hospitals who have not received a wooden car or truck of their own.
But Charles Eden said he most enjoys giving the toys to children both at the hospitals and in his neighborhood.
"I just like to see them smile," Eden said. "If I can help them to be a little happier, I am going to do it."
In the last four months, Charles Eden has made more than 1,500 toys, most of which will be given away at the Recycle the Warmth event that will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Bethel Church, 625 Luther Road in Red Bluff.
Information about the event is available from Senia Owensby at the Daily News by calling 527-2151.
Staff writer Stevie Ipsen can be reached at 527-2153, extension 114 or
The Red Bluff Daily News is pleased to let readers post comments about an article at the end of the article. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your full name and city when commenting.
Please note: It may take several minutes before your comment appears.
At the business desk, I'm Jayna Sheffield wishing you a very joyful pre Christmas weekend.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A call for ESL professionals

Hi everyone!  I'm Heather DeMarco at the business desk and today I'm putting out a call for ESL professionals.
Maybe you don't know it, but it appears that almost everyone is seeking your services these days.  From the largest to the smallest web design and development company, international organizations and conglomerates, community centers, colleges and high schools, and legal, medical, and technology establishments.
You see, there are practically millions of stakeholders involved in this very exploding trend and if I were you and you're either an established ESL professional, a budding or potential ESL professional, or someone thinking of getting into this profession, I would put on my fastest running shoes and run for the tracks.  I'm not kidding!  Just take a look at some of those websites out there and you'll be amazed to see how those pricy web developers and designers have forgotten to think about how they write and how they spell.  They are simply too busy putting up flashy graphics and icons and in the heat of the moment they have sadly forgotten to learn to spell properly and write properly.  Too many of us are just so busy looking at the appearance of a website that we just don't take the time to check out the content.  How it's written and the spelling and here is where ESL professionals come in. 
More and more companies are realizing that if they want to tap into a very hot and lucrative market that is made up of consumers whose first language is not English, they will have to do something very quickly about making sure that their information is written correctly and this applies not only to websites.  It extends to documents, emails, faxes, and even the spoken language.  With more and more communication taking place between and among persons who speak multi languages, the demand for ESL professionals is only going to go in one direction and that is up, up and away!
Time now for our weekly news round-up for language professionals.
elanex translation services opens new office in fukuoka, japan
PR Web (press release) - Ferndale,WA,USA
... and we are very excited about the business opportunities they are helping us discover." about elanex. elanex is a language translation services and ...
For more detail check out:
interview with liu feng, general manager of (subscription) - China
... a company asking for the translation of a difficult document may need participators to show they are qualified translators. interfax: what could the ...
For more detail check out:
Wall Street prepares for another Dictionary englez roman online week.
By mmorpg
... translator com online translator dictionary online translator dutch english online translator dutch to english online translator employment opportunities online translator english online translator english arabic online translator ...
Finance chiefs inch toward IMF... -
For more detail check out:
Why and how to network?
By Ostom(Ostom)
networking, social networks, translators. ------------------------- Want more direct clients? join my yahoo group. I will alert you when there is new tip posted in my blog. To subscribe just send a blank email at ...
Get Direct Clients -
For more detail check out:
When Your Business Is Small You Must Appear to Be Big!
By engelbrechtcykzog(engelbrechtcykzog)
We were exhausted at the end of each day from demonstrating the products performance features and benefits and discussing business opportunities through translators. We have been consumed with follow up interest and are currently ...
Dagenais -
For more detail check out:
Tips for working in Asia
By Penelope Trunk
She said they also always use male translators. "When we walk in the room to do business, everyone expects to see a man come in with us. If we're alone, they wait for the man to come in the room." 4. Distinguish between differences in ...
Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk -
For more detail check out:
Israel in Darfur and Arab National Security
Adib S. Kawar and Mary Rizzo are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.
For more detail check out:
Translation in international organizations
By fajro
Specialists usually do not have the necessary high level of language competence, or have other more interesting job opportunities. The result is that, in practice, a translator with a degree in law may have to do his best with a page of ...
Articles of Claude Piron -
For more detail check out:
Recognizing Education Excellence by Governor Dave Heineman
Southwest Nebraska News - NE,USA
The schools are creating opportunities that further engage parents in activities at their schools and in their child's education. ...
For more detail check out:
Language Services Associates Joins Idiom Technologies LSP Partner ...
Business Wire (press release) - San Francisco,CA,USA
"Our newly established partnership with Idiom Technologies enables our translators to work at optimal performance using the most advanced and comprehensive ...
For more detail check out:
Evaluating a Spanish Translator Certification Program
By rosemarieparkash
In order to take advantage of all the opportunities brought about by an increase in Spanish speakers, those with a solid grasp of English and Spanish are taking advantage and looking for ways to become translators. ...
rosemarie parkash -
For more detail check out:
Covering the World
American Journalism Review - College Park,MD,USA
That includes reporters, photographers, security personnel, translators and TV camera operators. Numerous stringers operate countrywide. ...
For more detail check out:
Hong Kong and the hookah of Islamic investment
Asia Times Online - Kowloon,Hong Kong
Tsang pointed out that Hong Kong is well equipped and positioned to serve as middleman for investors in the Middle East looking for opportunities in the ...
For more detail check out:
Forced Matrix Opportunities: A Slippery World of Sinkholes - Part 2
By lifesucks38471(lifesucks38471)
Swedish Translators Company Credit Report Check Jesus Second Coming School Uniform Controversy Baghdad Hangings In Iraq Bill Consolidation Loans Second Mortgages 10 Things 25 Fish Gallon Much Tank Gold Nugget Jewelry Tire Pressure Guage ...
Life Sucks 36664 -
For more detail check out:
FCC Meeting Adopts Rules Favoring LPFM, Restricting Translator ...
By David Oxenford
And AM licensees who were hoping that some of these translators could be granted to provide them with FM translators on which their signals could be broadcast may not have such as many opportunities. For full power stations, ...
Broadcast Law Blog -
For more detail check out:
If you would like to learn how to reach more of those millions of persons whose first language is not English then please visit and there you'll find qualified language professionals waiting to be of service.
At the business desk, I'm Heather DeMarco wishing you a pleasant day.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

What is causing the most stress thtese days

Good day everyone!  I'm Jeff N Marquis at the business desk and today I'd like to share an article with you about stress.
I thought that this would be very interesting to those who are still trying to decide which causes more stress:  Paid jobs or jobs around the home.
Give us your feedback on this if you will.

Jobs cause far more stress than household chores: study; Paid work still
biggest factor in time crunch, researchers say
Shannon Proudfoot
Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 26, 2007
Children, aging parents and household responsibilities may be gobbling up
people's evenings and weekends, but a new Canadian study reveals it's
actually their paid jobs that cause them the most stress.
What's more, the type of work, timing of shifts or holding down more than
one job aren't as important to "time-crunch" pressure as the sheer number of
hours spent on the job. The good news is this stress declines as people age,
the authors say. The bad news is that it's likely to get worse before it
gets better for most Canadians.
"People are working more hours," says Robert Andersen, a sociology professor
at the University of Toronto, who co-authored the study. "We work more than
most countries already; there's no indication the number of hours is going
to drop."
Paid work is seven times more stressful for men than "unpaid work" such as
care of children and seniors, housework, yard work and home maintenance, he
Women are five times more stressed by their day jobs than by their household
responsibilities, but they report higher levels of "time-crunch" from both
sources than men did.
"No doubt that the amount of hours of unpaid work are more stressful for
women than they are for men," says co-author Roderic Beaujot, a sociology
professor at the University of Western Ontario. "I think for men, the unpaid
work looks, at least for some, more like leisure and has that flexibility."
Mr. Andersen and Mr. Beaujot also looked at how different family
arrangements affect people's stress levels. They found that the traditional
"breadwinner" model, in which the man does most of the paid work and the
woman looks after things at home, is actually the most stressful for
everyone involved.
"It's kind of nice that it's a model that's in decline," says Mr. Beaujot.
"Nonetheless, it still represents close to half of couples."
Perhaps not surprisingly, "men's double-burden" families in which he does
most of the work outside the house and in it is the least stressful for
women, followed by "gender-reversed" couples in which she mostly brings home
the bacon and he does the laundry. The results suggest men are also least
stressed by that arrangement, although the numbers aren't as stark.
The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology, is based on
responses from almost 6,000 Canadians aged 30 to 59.
Winnipeg's Kari Lynn Roy says she actually finds household responsibilities
more stressful than work. Her job as program director at the YMCA involves
personal training, fitness instruction and oversight of three departments
and a lot of staff, but she says it's when she comes home that the real work
Ms. Roy's husband often cooks dinner and looks after yard work and snow
removal, as well as playing with their eight-year-old son, Ethan. He also
pitches in on laundry and vacuuming when needed. Ms. Roy does the dishes and
handles most of the laundry and household chores, makes sure Ethan is on top
of his homework and piano practice, puts him to bed and prepares his lunch.
"It's not the work part that stresses me -- it's when I get home and have to
do all that that stresses me," she says. "Have I considered hiring a maid?
Mr. Beaujot's advice for reducing time-crunch stress is to cut back at work,
especially if things are hectic outside it. That sounds good, Ms. Roy says,
but it's easier said than done.
"I wanted to retire when I was 45 or 50, but because I'm used to this
fast-paced life, if I retired at that age, I don't know what I'd do with
myself," Ms. Roy says. "I'm so used to going and going and going, it gets to
the point where if you slow down, I almost feel guilty."
 At the business desk, I'm Jeff N Marquis wishing you a pleasant rest of the day.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Important news for consumers with special needs

Good evening!  I'm Kerry J Harrison at the business desk and it's time for our weekly feature for consumers with special needs.
We hope that you enjoy this week's selections which are meant to keep you abreast of happenings in the worlds of technology and medicine.
 Please continue to give us your feedback.
Table of contents
December 05 2007
1 Digital Text becomes Accessible on Digital Terrestrial Television
2 Talking newspaper 'will make wonderful difference'
3 SAKS Electronics "VI-Player", "the ultimate MP-3 player for visually impaired users"
4 Computer simulator allows visually impaired to drive
5 IPod Speaks With Ivona's Voices
6 ClassMate Reader - Portable Reading System Offers Struggling Readers in K-12 Classrooms Many Advantages
7 Hexia Releases Iceland's First Mobile Text-to-Speech Application
8 Bionic eye success in sight
9 Premier Assistive Technology Announces the New Video Books for the 21st Century
10 Two Exciting New System Access Subscription Opportunities

DTG (Press Release), UK
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Digital Text becomes Accessible on Digital Terrestrial Television
Portset who produce accessible DTT products for the visually impaired are providing in their latest DTT products a navigational and reading capability which for the first time is making TeleText available in spoken form under user control.
Portset is well know for its product solutions and support for to the visually impaired community providing a wide range of speech products. Graham Thomas, Portset's CEO, explains , "Portset is the only producer of a truly accessible DTT solution in Europe, we had to meet the user demand to make digital text as usable as our current unique analog product, Talking TeleText." Digital TeleText has a real problem in that no standard exists on how pages are created by editors. Digital Text pages are a visual presentation with no respect to accessible readability in any way. Each broadcaster has their own way of creating a similar page of information, even down to labelling the next or story pages. In the absence of any coherent standard being used, Portset set about breaking down the broadcasters methods. By applying algorithms to each page for both the broadcaster and page presentation the ability of producing navigation speech reading became possible. Graham added, "We can now o
 ffer most Digital TeleText pages from the BBC, TeleText UK and Sky in an accessible form, we have as yet to design a suitable algorithm for the NHS service pages on SKY, they just do it so differently to all the others! He added, " Whilst we have now achieved an accessible solution to Digital Text including some interactive functions, it does require all broadcaster to be aware of the methods used and the need to maintain accessibility of their service.
Press Release  |  17.10.2007
Islington Gazette, London (UK)
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Talking newspaper 'will make wonderful difference'
Caption: Elizabeth Jones holds a copy of the Islington Gazette as volunteers Gaye Poulton (standing), Katy Gold and sound engineer James Scott record an issue of the Talking News 
A NEW newspaper was launched this week to help blind and visually impaired people stay in touch with the latest goings on in Islington.
Talking News will be recorded weekly by volunteers who will pick out the most interesting, important and useful stories from the Gazette and other local press.
It is the first newspaper for the blind in Islington for around 20 years - and those involved in producing it say it will have a dramatic impact on people's lives.
Talking News's project manager, Elizabeth Jones, of Mercers Road, Tufnell Park, said: "I'm blind myself and this will make a wonderful difference to us. People who can see wouldn't think about it but we walk by newspapers every day. We sit on the bus or the Tube with people reading newspapers and think 'I wish I could do that'.
"OK, we have talking books but having a story to listen to is not the same as knowing what's going on in your own borough where you pay your rates."
The hour-long Talking News will be distributed to people in Islington who cannot read printed newspapers to keep them abreast of the major issues.
It will be put together by a team of volunteers who will meet every Monday at the Outlook Community Centre, in St John's Way, Archway, to select and record the news.
Ms Jones said: "It will have general news, crime and all those sorts of things people want to know about. We'll also have what's on, events and other useful information such as the opening times of chemists.
"Islington really needs a talking newspaper so that visually impaired and blind people, and others who can't read, can have verbal access to information about their local area. It's great that we have finally achieved it."
* Anyone who wants to help out on Talking News should call Ms Jones on 020 7272 5481.
SAKS Electronics (UK)
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
SAKS Electronics "VI-Player", "the ultimate MP-3 player for visually impaired users"
SAKS Electronics was specifically formed to design, manufacture and distribute the "VI-Player". SAKS Electronics are a privately owned British company and have worked with some of the best known names in the industry to design the ultimate MP-3 player for visually impaired users.
Calibre Cassette Library have been heavily involved during the design and manufacturing process of "VI-Player" and this has given SAKS a unique insight into the needs and requirements of visually impaired users. Also, due to the user-friendly nature of the player the unit is ideal for all users who may have deteriorating eyesight or just simply want an easy to use device for playback of audio files.
"VI-Player" will open up a whole world of MP-3 entertainment to all users, audio files (whether they are music or audio-books) can be easily loaded and played from either the internet or from existing libraries using SD card technology. The voice-guidance software will guide you precisely through the easy-to-use menu system and take you exactly to what you want to listen to. The unique "Intelligent Pause/Resume" function will ensure you never lose your place while listening.
At SAKS Electronics we have a passion for what we do - and we believe you will see this in our product. "VI-Player" has been specifically designed with the needs of visually impaired users in mind and offers the very latest in technology whilst remaining easy to use.
Innovation lies at our heart, we constantly challenge convention. Through fresh thinking we are continually first with new ideas and products that seize the initiative. Even as we've grown we have stayed innovative; striving to create our next advance. This ensures you will always be offered products that take full advantage of opportunities and technologies available, "VI-Player" is only the first product to be offered by SAKS Electronics and over the coming years more new and exciting products will be added.
We are committed to working in partnership with experts - knowing what core skills are a part of SAKS, and refining these - knowing what expertise others have and working with them. We created "VI-player" by listening to experts who know what users require and by using manufacturers who are the best in their chosen field and have a commitment to making the very best product possible. Innovation, partnership and commitment to excellence - three hallmarks of the way we approach business.
Contact us
10 Melbourne Business Court, Milleniun Way, Pride Park, Derby DR24 8LZ.
University of Granada, Spain via Innovations Report
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Computer simulator allows visually impaired to drive
By Antonio Marín Ruiz
-Scientists from the Universities of Granada and Murcia have created a pioneering device, known as SERBA (in Spanish, Reconfigurable Electric-Optical System for Low Vision), which improves the vision of sight impaired patients.
-This reconfigurable platform, which will be updateable via the Internet, is especially useful for pathologies that can lead to blindness (Macular Degeneration, cataracts, Retinitis Pigmentosa, etc.)
C@MPUS DIGITAL A team of researchers from the University of Granada, in collaboration with the University of Murcia, has developed a visual aid device which significantly improves the vision of sight impaired patients; especially those suffering from pathologies with a slow progression that can eventually lead to blindness (such as Macular Degeneration, cataracts, etc.). This platform, called SERBA (in Spanish, Reconfigurable Electric-optical System for Low Vision), is the first visual aid unit which is very useful in all circumstances and for all tasks, independently of the degree of impairment of the patient. Up to now, in the majority of cases, people with impaired vision had to acquire various different devices to meet all their needs.
The main contribution of this project - undertaken by Mª Dolores Peláez Coca and led by professors Fernando Vargas Martín and Eduardo Ros Vidal, all from the University of Granada (Universidad de Granada) - is the implementation of a new optoelectronic platform (based on a reconfigurable device known as FPGA) which is easily reprogrammed so that it can be used in different circumstances. This device will help patients, among other things, to improve their vision when driving.
This platform, as the creator of the research explains, is based on the design of a real-time video processing system able to store several image processing algorithms. "Thanks to the use of a FPGA it is a very flexible device which can be adapted to the user's needs and to the evolution of their disease". Eight patients suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa (a visual impairment that reduces the field of vision) took part in the device's assessment, as well as six others with different pathologies that generate a ºloss of sharpness of vision.
Updating through the Internet
The program is stored in the internal memory of the prototype board and the selection of the dump algorithm in the FPGA is carried out automatically. In this way, the images are shown in a transparent viewfinder, similar to those used in the army. With this system, there is no need to purchase a new platform so as to adapt it to the changes that are produced in the disease's development; it is enough simply to update the programmes recorded in the device's memory. This update can be carried out through the Internet, so the support and travelling expenses can be reduced considerably.
So as to prove the viability of the project, researchers from the University of Granada have developed three different image processing computer programmes: edge enhancement, three different kinds of digital zoom lens and the implementation of an augmented view scheme system.
The main advantage of SERBA is that it is easily reconfigured and that it also offers, in researchers' own words, a "technological convergence", as it includes light low-cost cameras, real time image processing and transparent portable viewfinders.
A driving video game
This visual aid system designed by scientists from the University of Granada and the University of Murcia has contributed to the creation of bioptical telescopes, anamorphic systems and inverted telescopes that magnify the patient's visibility as it implements zoom lens effects, edge enhancement and edge multiplexing to expand the field of vision. Moreover, a driving video game (with some enlargements in some areas of the image) has been developed to simulate the visual aids previously mentioned. The selection of the area to magnify is supplied by a Head Tracker that the subject carries in a cap.
Several companies have already shown their interest in commercialising this system created by the University of Granada, as SERBA is improving the sharpness of vision and contrast sensitivity, apart from offering an effective field of vision for very restricted visual fields and facilitating the subject's mobility.
Some of the results of this research have been published in the prestigious journals "Lecture Notes in Computer Science" and "International Congress Series".
Mª Dolores Peláez Coca. Departamento de Arquitectura y Tecnología de Computadores of the University of Granada. Tel: 00 34 968 398 317.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
IPod Speaks With Ivona's Voices
By PR Solutions
A new version of Expressivo, software capable of reading any text with a human voice, has been launched. Expressivo version 1.3 is the first application of this type in the world to be fully integrated with iPods.
iPod supports Expressivo because the application has been integrated with iTunes - commonly available freeware for iPods. Any text read by Expressivo is automatically added to iTunes library as an audio file. Here it can be stored or copied to the player. With just one mouse click. Expressivo 1.3 makes it also easier to create audiobooks as it has new functions accelerating audio file creation process.
Expressivo's integration with iPod is certainly good news for over a 100 million users of this most popular portable music player in the world. And for almost a million of iPhone users. Now, thanks to Expressivo, they can always have with them their favorite book or even a library and listen to it anytime, e.g. while walking or in a car. iPod with Expressivo can also help with work (e.g. reading out e-mails, RSS news or planned events from the planner) and study (e.g. reading out lectures or facilitating learning of a foreign language). Texts read by Expressivo can also be played on other MP3 players, cell phones and palmtops.
You can test Expressivo "virtual voices" in the free Text To Speech Service:
You just enter any text in the appropriate window. Then you choose the voice to read the text. Four voices are available, speaking three languages (English, Polish and Romanian). Then you can send the voice message which you have generated to your friends via e-mail or publish it in the Web (e.g. on a blog).
Expressivo Text Reader is powered by IVONA Text-To-Speech (TTS). The speech generation technology developed by IVO Software is regarded as one of the best in the world. In this year's prestigious international Blizzard Challenge IVONA won acclaim confirming its success from 2006 when 135 experts chose IVONA as offering the best voice quality. To find out more about Expressivo visit
Expressivo has been developed by IVO Software. Based on a proprietary technology IVO develops and implements software speaking with a human voice. Its professional products are used in business (telecommunications, customer service centers etc.) and in rehabilitation of the blind. Expressivo in turn, which has been made available recently but has already become popular enables virtually anyone to take advantage of the speech generation technology thanks to its affordable price. To find out more about IVO Software visit: (Press Release)
Friday, October 19, 2007
ClassMate Reader - Portable Reading System Offers Struggling Readers in K-12 Classrooms Many Advantages
By Don Johnston Incorporated / Humanware
Handheld digital text reader with audio feedback offers multi-model reading advantages for struggling readers and learning disabled, dispelling the notion that assistive devices are unappealing.
Volo, IL (PRWEB) October 19, 2007 -- Don Johnston Incorporated has announced today it's partnership with HumanWare, Longueuil (Quebec, Canada), a global leader in assistive technologies for the print disabled, to distribute a revolutionary device to assist K-12 students with reading difficulties. The ClassMate Reader is a tool to help students improve reading comprehension, increase reading speed and develop strong vocabulary. This tool is indispensable for students who need to refer back to previously recorded notes, tests or chapter summaries and benefit from audio feedback.
The ClassMate Reader is a unique, lightweight, handheld device about the size of a portable gaming system with a large LCD screen. Students can listen to the audio version of their textbooks and study materials, while following the highlighted text on screen. This system is ideal for students in any learning setting, including the classroom, resource room, library, extended learning and at home. The system promotes phonetic recognition and fluency mastery while significantly boosting the efforts of teachers who work with students who are dyslexic.
Our partnership with HumanWare brings a new dimension to our product and services for educators who serve struggling learners. The ClassMate will offer a truly convenient digital reading experience for students who require more reading practice and recorded feedback in an anytime, anywhere learning environment. The ClassMate is an ideal and real-time solution to fill a strong student need.  
The ClassMate Reader integrates several features found on more expansive PC-based software such as text-to-speech, highlighting, dictionary, text and voice notes and audio book navigation. It can be part of a teacher's strategy to build students' independence in the learning process and enhance their self-esteem. The system's design was carefully crafted to engage students and dispel the notion that assistive devices are unappealing.
Scientific studies have demonstrated the advantages of a multi-modal based reading approach (audio and visual) for dyslexic students. With the simultaneous use of text and audio, students will improve their reading comprehension which is conducive to improve academic achievement and higher test scores. Students who read below grade level can use this tool to access grade level materials and the general curriculum. The ClassMate Reader can be used as an accommodation when administering tests and to eliminate the necessity for the teacher to read the exam to students.
Kevin Johnston, Director of Business Development for Don Johnston Incorporated, said, "Our partnership with HumanWare brings a new dimension to our product and services for educators who serve struggling learners. The ClassMate will offer a truly convenient digital reading experience for students who require more reading practice and recorded feedback in an anytime, anywhere learning environment. The ClassMate is an ideal and real-time solution to fill a strong student need."    
Students will appreciate the ClassMate Reader for quickly and effectively consulting their school books, making voice notes, study and practice and recording their teacher during class. The ClassMate's study features are built to assist in retrieving information through the use of text notes, highlighting and bookmarks. The ClassMate Reader can play various electronic book formats starting with the new NIMAS (National Instructional Material Accessible Standard) , which supports the 2004 IDEA regulation. Other formats include DAISY,, text, wav, MP3 and audio files. The player also provides integrated text-to-speech for reading books in text format, such as those from It uses a removable SD flash memory card or USB memory stick to store books and electronic texts. It can easily transfer files from a PC with its standard USB connection. The ClassMate offers all of the most advanced DAISY functions, as well as navigation capabilities for any book or t
The ClassMate will be available for purchase from Don Johnston Incorporated in late autumn 2007 at an affordable price of $439 per unit. Customers buying 10 or more ClassMates will receive a price discount of $399 per unit. Any customer who purchases a ClassMate through the spring of 2008 will receive a special e-text version of Don Johnston's autobiography, Building Wings: How I Made it Through School, narrated by Don himself. This short, compelling and personal story encourages students to identify their individual learning style and reach for their optimal learning potential. Building Wings is a thoughtful journey of Don's struggle with reading; the teacher who sparked his passion for learning and an incredible list of personal and professional triumphs. Educators can enter to win a FREE ClassMate by visiting Don Johnston's website at
About Don Johnston Incorporated:
Don Johnston Incorporated empowers educators with supplemental instruction and intervention solutions to help struggling learners build core literacy skills with confidence. Don Johnston has partnered with literacy experts, psychologists, teachers, researchers, and scientists since 1980 to develop over a dozen educational technology products. The company also publishes Start-to-FinishT, a collection of paperback, audio and computer books to engage struggling readers and ESL learners. 1-800-999-4660 /
About HumanWare:
HumanWare ( is the global leader in assistive technologies for the print disabled. HumanWare provides products to people who are blind and have low vision and students with learning disabilities. HumanWare offers a collection of innovative products include BrailleNote, the leading productivity device for the blind in education, business and for personal use; the Victor Reader product line, the world's leading digital audio book players, and SmartView Xtend, the first fully modular and upgradeable CCTV-based video magnifier.
Speech Technology Magazine
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Hexia Releases Iceland's First Mobile Text-to-Speech Application
By Lauren Shopp
Though its population tops slightly more than 300,000, Iceland's tech-saavy citizens have made for a country willing to adopt cutting-edge technologies at rates similar to the rest of Europe. And this month, Icelandic speech company Hexia launched the country's first text-to-speech (TTS) application for mobile phones. Called Ragga, the self-service application delivers synthesized speech to a user's mobile device.
Ragga is one of Hexia's most recent products, joining a coterie of the company's TTS services, such as a Web service interface that translates text from Web sites into synthesized speech. The company, which was founded in 2002, developed a VoiceXML 2.0-compliant application server, and then began building speech applications. The company's target market is the Icelandic population, and has had to overcome minor hurdles to push its technology into the mainstream.
Toti Steffansson, Hexia's CEO, says the quality of both ASR and TTS in Iceland was either not available or of poor quality, forcing the company to partner with other organizations. "Since we wanted and needed to be able to deploy our applications here, we were forced to create a consortium of enterprises, universities, and government agencies to rectify that situation," he says.
This consortium then partnered with Nuance Communications to create an ASR for the Icelandic language, which led to Ragga's release, he says. Ragga's primary user base consists of both dyslexics and busy professionals. While Steffansson says Hexia expected dyslexics to comprise its main user market, the company was surprised to see other demographics use Ragga. One such group, he says, is lawyers.
"(They) would like to download legal texts to their iPods and go jogging," he says. "That was not the target audience we had in mind."
The Icelandic language, which has changed little since Norse settlers arrived there in the 9th century, adapted well to TTS applications. Though complex, Steffansson states that Icelandic is easier to generate than English due to the language's variety of sounds. Hexia, he adds, is now working on a system that can handle gender and language idiosyncrasies. In addition, Hexia is also running tests with the country's Ministry of Education for an application it designed that allows dyslexic schoolchildren to enter text and have it read back them.
Currently, the Ragga service is provided on a "freemium" model, which is free for the disabled, but comes with a price for "enterprises and others we feel comfortable charging," Steffansson says.  Currently, Icelanders have responded well to the application, and he expects this growth to continue.
"The market (in Iceland) is small and technologically adept, making it easy to introduce and market services and see how they fare," he says.
The Australian
Monday, October 22, 2007
Bionic eye success in sight
By Jennifer Foreshew
AUSTRALIA is well positioned to win the race to develop the world's first bionic eye, with a clinical proof of concept expected within three years, project researchers say.
Dr Parker, right, Professor Lovell, centre, and associate professor Suaning
The bionic eye project, expected to cost $40 million over the next five years, involves the technology research centre of excellence, NICTA, along with the Australian Vision Prosthesis Group at the University of NSW, the Bionic Ear Institute and the Centre for Eye Research.
NICTA chief operating officer Phil Robertson said planning on the project began about 18 months ago and details of a basic strategy would be pinned down by the end of this year.
"In the past year NICTA has been building an awareness of what is needed and an understanding of the different perspectives of the various groups," Dr Robertson said.
"We expect to kick off this large-scale project probably at the beginning of next year."
The bionic eye is expected to do for visually impaired people what the Australian-developed cochlear implant, or bionic ear, did for hearing impaired people.
John Parker, a consultant working on NICTA's Biomedical and Life Sciences Strategy, said the project's progression would be along the lines of the cochlear implant's development.
"In the early days of cochlear implants, they were originally designed as a simple aid to lip-reading," said Dr Parker, who was previously Cochlear's chief technology officer.
"One of the things that will happen early on with a visual implant is that you might provide a simple visual input to allow people to navigate a pathway."
"It won't happen overnight, but it will happen through providing immediate benefits with simple things that you can do, and then learning from how they work and progressively developing the appropriate technology."
Dr Parker said the team had to establish answers to some basic scientific questions. "The nerves in the eye have an extraordinarily complex arrangement, and as a lot of what you see and how you process information that comes into the eye actually occurs in your retina, it is very different from the way the ear works," he said.
It could be a decade or more before there was a commercial product on the market, Dr Parker said. "I would hope that we have clinical proof of the concept sorted out within three years."
At least three other teams around the world are also working to develop the bionic eye.
"We think Australia, particularly with the skills that come from these different groups, is uniquely placed with respect to those other groups that are working on it because we have people who have done this before for hearing," Dr Parker said.
"I don't know that any of the other companies have the depth of computer vision and image analysis that we can draw on to do this - so we approach this whole thing with a reasonably high level of confidence." (Press Release)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Premier Assistive Technology Announces the New Video Books for the 21st Century
Premier VideoCast Studio is a breakthrough in assistive technology. It is the first technology on the market that creates a Video Podcast of electronic books and documents. These video files can be loaded onto portable media devices, allowing individuals for the first time to see their books on video and take it with them wherever they go.
(PRWEB) October 23, 2007 -- In 2001, Premier Assistive Technology was also the first company to incorporate MP3 file creation into its products. Text-To-Audio was a breakthrough concept at the time due to the introduction of MP3 players on the market. In today's media-driven world, almost everyone has an MP3 player, and assistive technology products should be able to create files that will play on these devices. Similar to the historical evolution of the television from the radio, a hybrid video/audio delivery emerged from an audio-only platform. As part of the continued evolution of audio and video, we now have the MP3 player, the iPodTM, and the Microsoft ZuneTM. With these most recent innovations, the timing is now right for assistive technology to incorporate video-based media.
This is the concept behind Premier Assistive Technology's new VideoCast Studio software. The VideoCast software is the new benchmark in Text-to-Video technology. In the past, individuals used text-to-speech to create MP3 files and had to visualize what was being read. This was great for people with vision problems, but for sighted people who wanted to see pictures, charts and graphs, that solution fell short.
Premier Assistive realized that there were significant additional benefits to be gained from the inclusion of video capabilities in assistive technologies. Today's portable media players are also able to play video files as well as MP3 files. Similar to the MTV revolution in the '80's and '90's when video became a very important component of the music itself, video is becoming an important component of learning for the current generation. Similar to the music video, Premier Assistive Technology can now combine audio with video and deliver it in a solution that is portable to meet a variety of literacy needs.
Premier's VideoCast software can convert electronic documents into a Video Podcast. In doing so, a user is able to both hear and see words as they are being read while including charts, tables and other graphics. Video playback can even be paused so that pictures and graphics can be more closely examined (e.g., zoom). Each page of a book is considered its own video file and allows the user to create a play list or quickly navigate to a desired page. Premier's built-in training videos even show users how to quickly convert a book from a publisher's electronic format (e.g., PDF) into a page-by-page portable video book.
Premier VideoCast Software creates industry-standard "WMV" and "AVI" video files. These video files are very compact and only require about 2MB per page of text, letting the user store about 1,000 pages on a standard 2 GB Flash device. The video files can be imported and played on most media players such as the iPhoneTM, iPodTM, Microsoft's ZuneTM, and Premier's VPod. By having digital content, text and video, stored on a portable media device, students are now able to read books anywhere without being connected to a computer.
The Premier VideoCast Studio includes the following:
Premier VideoCast Software: Turn documents on your computer into portable multimedia files which can be optimized in today's hand-held media players.
Premier Presentation Capture: Capture both audio and video presentations, and turn them into Video Podcasts. Premier Presentation Capture is compatible with all types of interactive "digital" white boards, including SMART BoardTM and Promethean.
VPod Video Converter: The video converter is a batch video converter which converts virtually all video file types, making them compatible with Premier Assistive Technology's Key to Access VPod.
The Suggested Retail Price for Premier VideoCast Studio is $199.95, but from now until Dec 31, 2007, you can take advantage of either of the following offers:
-- Purchase Premier VideoCast Studio for only $99.95 plus S&H.
-- Alternatively, purchase Premier Assistive's VPod at $424.95 plus S&H, and you can receive a free copy of Premier VideoCast Studio.
Please be sure to mention promotion code VC2007 when you order.
For more information about VideoCast Studio, go to Premier Assistive's web site and select Educational Solutions.
Or contact:
Premier Assistive Technology
Executive Offices
1309 N. William St.
Joliet, IL 60435
Phone: 815-927-7390
Fax: 815-722-8802
Premier Assistive Technology - Canada
PO Box 875, STN A
Sydney, NS
B1P 6J4
Phone: 902-482-4680
Fax: 902-270-5224
Serotek Blog
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Two Exciting New System Access Subscription Opportunities
By The Serotek Team
Serotek Corporation, the Accessibility Anywhere people, is proud to announce two exciting new options to extend accessibility to everyone. Serotek now makes its complete product offering available to people on a budget with two Software As a Service (SAS) options. For those who feel uncomfortable making any commitment, the entire Serotek offering including System Access Mobile with Neospeech and the System Access Mobile Network is available for the low, low price of $39.95 a month with no obligation. You can discontinue usage at any time and owe no cancellation fee. For those willing to commit to a forty-eight month relationship the price is just $24.95 per month. After forty-eight months you will have a paid up license to System Access Mobile with Neospeech. On-going use of the System Access Mobile Network (SAM Net) and continuing software updates will cost just $129.95 a year, guaranteed beginning in year 5 and beyond.
If you or someone you know has been caught in the dilemma of not being able to afford the accessibility tools you need and want because government agencies will only fund screen readers that are too complex and require too large an investment of your time to achieve minimal proficiency, this offer is for you. System Access Mobile is more than a screen reader, providing all the standard accessibility functions including access to the major Microsoft Office productivity tools including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook and Outlook Express, and many other popular applications like Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer, Skype, Windows Media Player and much, much more. And, with System Access Mobile you get Neospeech, delivering naturally sounding voices. In addition, System Access Mobile, in conjunction with the System Access Mobile Network delivers connectibility as you've never experienced it before. Access your home computer from work or on the road; exchange files; interact on-scree
 n with friends and colleagues. System Access Mobile takes social networking to a whole new level.
Best of all, System Access Mobile is easy to use. In minutes you'll be up and running, browsing the Internet, sending and receiving e-mail, and accessing your favorite productivity tools. Additional training is available for those who want to really put the software through its paces.
You also get full access to the System Access Mobile Network (SAM NET), the world's most complete compilation of accessible sites for news, entertainment, shopping, information, and social networking. With SAM NET you can launch your own Web site, create and participate in Blogs, customize your news and entertainment. SAM NET puts you right in the center of the digital lifestyle, helping you enjoy the independence and productivity you crave. On SAM NET you'll find a community of like-minded individuals who are taking control of their lives.
So if you've been hesitating because of the cost, now is the time to act. You can enjoy the digital lifestyle for less than a dollar a day ($.82/day actually). You'll save that and more just by using an Internet telephone service like Skype, which is fully accessible to Serotek SAS subscribers. Why not give yourself (or someone you know) the digital lifestyle for the holidays. It will be the most liberating gift you've ever received.
Posted by Serotek Team at 6:31 PM
If you'd like to read more of these types of articles then please visit and there you'll find a free monthly online magazine that is filled with very interesting articles, editorials written by Donna J Jodhan our resident special need business consultant and associate, and some helpful tips.
At the business desk, I'm Kerry J Harrison wishing you a very pleasant evening.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Important answers to important questions

Hello there!  I'm Matt Chadwick at the business desk and it's time for question period.  The time when we pull out some questions from our email bag that have been sent in by our readers.  Of course, we can't answer every question that has been submitted.  We pull a few at random and do our best. 
So, here they are.
Question from Brenda Boyd:
Do you know if it is quicker to order online or by phone?  I mean, which method is faster when it comes to delivery time?
Answer:  It really depends on the type of company and the type of product.  Doing the Internet way may be more convenient for companies as everything is automated or more automated than by phone.  However, by phone means that you get to chat with a real live person.  By Internet means that you don't get to talk to anyone and you have to depend on yourself to make your purchases.  Whereas by phone, you can get the call taker to check on things for you.  I don't know if I've answered the question fully but there is no real way to monitor which method is faster.
Question from Brian Peterson:
I'd like to know if trans fats has been totally banned in New York?
Answer:  As far as I know, it has only been banned at restaurants in New York.
Question from Dane Shoemaker:
Do you know why is it that many companies often ask for the last three digits of one's credit card when they make a purchase by phone?
Answer:  The last three digits of one's credit card is a safety mechanism that most companies use to ensure that the cardholder is actually the one that is placing the order in question.  This method of safety precaution has been in effect for some time now.  It's proving to be extremely effective because if for some reason someone has copied your credit card number, they are unable to copy those last three digits unless you purposely give it to them.  In short, those last three digits cannot be copied if someone tries to copy your credit card.  If you make a purchase anywhere, those last three digits never show up on the bill.
Question from Karen Gushatt:
Do you think that a delivery service could really be successful?
Answer:  Definitely so.  There are several companies out there who seek or are outsourcing their delivery services to independent contractors.  They are finding it cheaper to do so.  The types of companies that are presently seeking delivery services would include:
Liquor establishments, flower shops, appliance stores, and even some supermarkets.
If you're seeking some ideas for small businesses then visit  This page has some very interesting suggestions that could get you started in the right direction.
At the business desk, I'm Matt Chadwick wishing you a pleasant day.  Stay warm.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The sleepless nights syndrome

Hey there!  I'm Alix Shadonnay at the business desk and it's a very cold and bitter day today.  I'd like to start off the week by sharing a very interesting article with you that I came across a few weeks ago.  It all has to do with trying to figure out why it is so difficult to have restful nights and I thought that our readers would find the following article of some interest.  Many refer to it as the sleepless night syndrome.  So, hopefully, this article may help to clear up some of the misconceptions.
Here it is.

John Hopkins University magazine, MD, USA
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Clock Wise: New research is shedding light on the master timekeeper inside our brains
By Melissa Hendricks
Extract: "One finding came from studies of people who are totally blind, many of whom have a history of sleeping problems. For example, Suzanne Erb, blind since infancy and now enrolled in a research study at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, says that she has had problems sleeping for as long as she can remember. When she was a child, she'd toss and turn in bed for an hour or two until she couldn't stand it any longer. Then she'd pull Heidi, Little Women, or another novel from its hiding place under her covers. Long into the night and often until dawn, she would read, her small fingers sailing over the Braille letters on the pages. The following day, her body would ache for sleep. "You're turning your days into nights," her mother told her.
In the 1990s, Harvard sleep medicine specialist Charles Czeisler began studying totally blind people. Most, he found, had sleeping problems like Erb's, suggestive of a circadian rhythm disorder. But some did not. That observation was puzzling because if rods and cones were the path to the circadian clock, then everyone who lacked them should have circadian clock disorders. But here were some totally blind people who appeared not to have such problems."
This past July, Johns Hopkins biologist Samer Hattar traveled across seven time zones to visit his family in Amman, Jordan. In the first few days after his arrival, besides spending time with relatives and friends, Hattar made sure he followed a special schedule.
"Once I reach Jordan, which is usually 5 p.m., I fight sleep really hard till 9 or 10 p.m.," he explains. "The next two days are key. The first day around 11 a.m., I go out and walk in the sun for one hour minimum. The next day, I do the walk two hours earlier. I try to avoid light early in the day."
This ritual, says Hattar, helps to fast-forward his circadian clock to Jordanian time. Now, instead of feeling fuzzy-headed and sluggish for a week, he feels like his normal self after two days. But that's not the only time Hattar pays close attention to his body's clock. He rises at 4:30 or 5 every morning and goes to sleep at 9:30 at night. On work days, Hatttar tries to take a walk every afternoon around the Homewood campus. He has changed all of the light bulbs in his home to low-intensity bulbs. "If you came to my house at night, you'd think I'm a cheap guy," he says with a smile. All of these practices, he says, are intended to keep his body clock aligned with the clock of the external world, determined by when the spinning Earth countenances the sun.
Hattar, who holds joint appointments in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Biology Department and the School of Medicine's Neuroscience Department, is an expert on this circadian clock, the master timekeeper we all have in our brain that governs our sleep and wake cycles and many other body fluctuations. He doesn't study the circadian clock of people, though. He studies mice, in particular, the cells, genes, and neurochemicals that help to set the mouse's biological clock. But his results and those of colleagues in the field who study people, he says, have caused him to rethink his own habits. So about four years ago, he adopted a more circadian clock-friendly lifestyle. He now feels better. Or at least, he adds, he believes he does.
For someone with such concerns, Hattar has the perfect office. Its two enormous windows, overlooking a lush bank of trees, flood the high-ceilinged room with natural light. On a recent morning this past summer, Hattar gazed out these windows in Mudd Hall, on the Homewood campus, before settling into a desk chair. "I feel sorry for people who work in cubicles," he said. "The worst is when someone works in a cubicle all day away from natural light, and then goes home to a house illuminated with bright, artificial light." That's a recipe for disrupting your clock.
Studies have suggested that upsetting the clock's natural cycle can have serious health consequences. Shift workers, for instance, an estimated 15 million Americans, have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, and certain forms of cancer, according to Hattar's colleague Steven Lockley, who studies sleep and circadian biology at Harvard Medical School.
Hattar's own research explores another aspect of light's influence on the biological clock. With a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, he is using mouse models to study how a misaligned circadian clock might affect thinking, learning, memory, and mood.
It's not just shift workers who might be affected. It's also all those cubicle workers, the late-night Web surfers, the caffeinated go-getters. It's not just the frequent fliers or shift workers who might be affected, says Hattar. It's also all those cubicle workers, the late-night Web surfers, the caffeinated go-getters, the kids who stay up late to blog and IM and channel surf - basically all those who push their circadian clock to its limits. And those numbers appear to be growing. In its annual polls of Americans' sleep habits, the National Sleep Foundation has found that we're getting less sleep than we used to. Between 2001 and 2005, the percentage of American adults getting at least eight hours of sleep per night dropped from 38 percent to 26 percent, while the number getting less than six hours rose from 13 percent to 16 percent. Many of us, says Hattar, may be feeling the effects, even though we don't realize it.
"I believe that we have been so desensitized to light because we see it so much, we are not aware of what it's doing to us," says Hattar. "We in the industrial age of light are living under a continuous subtle jet lag because we are not doing what evolution intended."
Electricity, the silicon chip, and satellite communications have given us super powers - the ability and the temptation to defy the sun. But when we can expose ourselves to light 24/7, we may have to face some consequences. We may eventually come crashing down from the heights of our super powers, just like the mortal Icarus, flying too close to the sun with his wings of wax.
While Hattar's study could say something about health, he is, at heart, a basic scientist. In Jordan, he was raised in a Christian family and planned to become a priest. But by age 15, he had discovered a new passion - science, especially genetics. "I loved genetics the minute I heard about it," says Hattar. "I love to be able to manipulate genes and see what happens when you change genes. You have such a powerful tool."
At first, his passions seemed to conflict. But when Hattar learned of the work of the pioneering geneticist Gregor Mendel, and learned that Mendel had been an Augustinian monk, he thought that he, too, could pursue both vocations.
Today, Hattar does not wear a clerical collar or monk's habit, but T-shirt and casual pants - the uniform of an academic scientist. He did his doctoral studies at the University of Houston, where he focused on circadian biology. He was intrigued, he says, by the idea that different events happened in a plant, animal, or cell depending on the time of day. In his own research, Hattar found that light could activate different genes depending on whether it was morning, afternoon, or evening.
Samer Hattar's research on the circadian clock has led to his belief that we are living in a state of continual jet lag. "We are not doing what evolution intended," he says.  People have a circadian clock. So do mice, sea slugs, fruit flies, dandelions, the fungus Neurospora, certain bacteria, and almost all other organisms. In people, the master clock also imparts structure to the body's operations. In early morning, body temperature ebbs. Soon the stress hormone cortisol surges, insulin is produced at its maximum rate, and testosterone (in men) peaks. Other factors, hormones, and enzymes fluctuate throughout the day, and by around 9 p.m., the sleep hormone melatonin begins to flow. So though you might think you are a free agent who can improvise your schedule as you like, when it comes to human biology, free will is something of a mirage.  By the time Hattar entered the circadian biology field, scientists had found that the master clock resided in a V-shaped cluster of cell
 s in the brain's hypothalamus, near where the optic nerve enters the base of the brain. They named the cluster the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Researchers had also observed that each person's SCN beats out a slightly different length of day. So my clock might revolve once every 23.5 hours, while yours might repeat every 25 hours. If left to its own devices, each person's clock would "free-cycle" on its own idiosyncratic schedule. That doesn't happen, though, because the sun (or another form of light) resets, or "entrains," the clock every day to the 24-hour world clock.
But questions remained, including one that would eventually intrigue Hattar: What mechanism did the clock use to detect light? In other words, how did the clock "know" whether it was night or day, dusk or dawn? Until then, scientists had largely assumed that the mechanism was the same as that used for vision. In that case, the eye's retina detects light through the use of photoreceptors. These light-sensitive cells convert incoming light energy into nerve impulses that travel to the brain's visual centers.
For decades, scientists had held that the retina contained just two types of photoreceptors: rods, which sense very low levels of light, and cones, which distinguish different colors of light. The retina's multilayered structure also harbored other types of cells, including a family called ganglion cells, but none of those responded to light, according to this model.
However, research findings from several arenas were leading some scientists to question whether this model explained everything about the retina and the circadian clock. One finding came from studies of people who are totally blind, many of whom have a history of sleeping problems. For example, Suzanne Erb, blind since infancy and now enrolled in a research study at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, says that she has had problems sleeping for as long as she can remember. When she was a child, she'd toss and turn in bed for an hour or two until she couldn't stand it any longer. Then she'd pull Heidi, Little Women, or another novel from its hiding place under her covers. Long into the night and often until dawn, she would read, her small fingers sailing over the Braille letters on the pages. The following day, her body would ache for sleep. "You're turning your days into nights," her mother told her.
In the 1990s, Harvard sleep medicine specialist Charles Czeisler began studying totally blind people. Most, he found, had sleeping problems like Erb's, suggestive of a circadian rhythm disorder. But some did not. That observation was puzzling because if rods and cones were the path to the circadian clock, then everyone who lacked them should have circadian clock disorders. But here were some totally blind people who appeared not to have such problems.
Hattar's studies will support the idea that misaligning the daily clock can lead to serious consequences, including subtle learning deficits. It's a bold idea, he admits.  Another intriguing finding came from studies conducted by a biologist named Ignacio Provencio. While at the Uniformed Services University, Provencio had been studying light-sensitive proteins that enable photoreceptors - rods and cones - to absorb light. Each photoreceptor produces its own special light-sensitive protein. Provencio had found what he believed was an entirely new light-sensitive protein in the mammalian retina. However, this protein did not appear to be located in rods or in cones, but elsewhere in the retina. Provencio called it melanopsin.
To some scientists, only one conclusion could explain the findings of Czeisler, Provencio, and others who had conducted related studies: The retina must have a third photoreceptor, one responsible for detecting light to set the master clock. Moreover, this new photoreceptor might use melanopsin to do its job. Other scientists remained unconvinced. Some maintained that the "new" photoreceptor was actually a subgroup of rods or cones, whose numbers were so small they had eluded researchers.
Hattar decided to study melanopsin in 2000, soon after he began a postdoc in the lab of neuroscientist King-Wai Yau, at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Hattar initially had planned to focus his research on a different topic, but a visit to the lab by Provencio inspired him to shift to melanopsin. From reading the literature and talking with Provencio, says Hattar, he was confident that melanopsin represented a novel photoreceptor. But to convince the skeptics, he and other scientists would have to gather hard evidence. So over the next few years, Hattar, Yau, and others in Yau's lab examined the melanopsin hypothesis more closely.
Provencio's results had indicated that melanopsin resided in the retina's unheralded ganglion cells. So using a rodent model, the Hopkins team was able to identify a small subset of the retina's ganglion cells - just 1 to 2 percent - that harbored the protein and to show that the axons of these melanopsin cells reached all the way to the brain's SCN. In other words, these cells could communicate directly with the brain's master clock. (Since then, experiments have demonstrated that the human retina also contains melanopsin cells, also in tiny numbers, says Hattar. In the human eye, only about 2,000 of the retina's total 1.2 million ganglion cells produce melanopsin. Such small numbers could explain why scientists overlooked the cells for so long.)
In 2002, the team published its results in Science. Another study in the same issue, reported by Brown University neuroscientist David Berson, complemented the findings. Berson had isolated from the retina a group of ganglion cells that connected to the SCN. He had shown that these cells, apart from other components, could respond to light on their own. Together, the articles made the journal's list of most significant breakthroughs of the year.
Such basic science has revamped the model of the retina, says Harvard's Lockley. "It's all cutting-edge stuff. We thought we knew everything about the eye. But in the past 10 years, with Samer's work and others', we've discovered that we did not. Now we have a whole new focus."
"The whole thing is unexpected," says Yau. "If you had asked me 20 years ago if there was another cell type in the eye that could detect light and send a signal to the brain, I would have laughed."
Five years later, Hattar still sounds wondrous when he talks about his results and their implication that we "see" light in more ways than one. While the first pathway involves our conscious - we see the result - the second is subconscious - we do not realize that light is entraining our master clock. Hattar says he is fascinated by these differences. Why are there two pathways? Our visual system reveals whether it is night or day, so why doesn't that information get communicated to the clock? Why does the brain have a separate pathway to let it know the level of lighting?
In 2004 Hattar began his own lab at Homewood. And while such intellectual questions continue to intrigue him, he is also pursuing studies that may have practical applications in medicine. Namely, he'd like to know how melanopsin and the circadian clock affect health and well-being. Does disrupting this system jeopardize health?
 To study such questions Hattar used genetic techniques to generate a mouse that lacks melanopsin cells. In theory, these animals would be able to see but would not be able to detect light to set their circadian clock. Such an animal could serve as a model for studying situations in which the daily clock is desynchronized, as occurs in jet lag and shift work.
Hattar and graduate student Cara Altimus have put the animals through a battery of tests to determine whether the mice behave as predicted. Since a lab mouse spends most of its waking hours on an activity wheel, wheel-running serves as a proxy for an animal's sleep/wake cycle. When the lights are on, a normal mouse sleeps. (Mice are nocturnal.) When the lights are turned off, a normal mouse will hop on its wheel and start running. If an animal cannot tell the difference between light and dark, it follows a sleep/wake schedule governed solely by its internal clock. Researchers use computer-generated records of each mouse's wheel-running activity to see whether an animal entrains to light cues or simply follows its internal rhythms.
"It's very clear," says Altimus. "Dramatic." The mice can see, but they cannot "see" light to set their circadian clock.
The researchers are now in the process of conducting a whole new series of tests on the mice to gauge their cognitive abilities and anxiety levels. Impairments in the animals would support the hypothesis that compromising the circadian clock can also compromise learning, memory, or even mental health. Because they have not yet published the results of those studies, Hattar is not willing to discuss them in detail. He will say, however, that they are "impressive." His studies, he believes, will support the idea that misaligning the daily clock can lead to serious consequences, including subtle learning deficits. It's a bold idea, he admits. "I'm putting it out there to be challenged," says Hattar. "But I really believe it."
Nothing he's seen so far in his or colleagues' results has persuaded him to stop his regular habit of rising before dawn, going to sleep early, and keeping his lights dim in the evening. If anything, his results have made him more concerned about the harm that irregular exposure to light might cause.
"I may be 'placebo-ing' myself," says Hattar. He's aware that the improvements he's felt in his own health and spirit might just be comparable to taking a sugar pill. Likewise, he cannot yet say just how much harm might come to any of us from our light-filled environments. "Here is where I need to be careful," he says. "You look at Americans. There are so many insomniacs. Stress levels are high. Many factors could be affecting us - our food, many environmental factors. But I know that no matter how upset I am, when I go into the sun, I feel better."
Freelancer Melissa Hendricks teaches nonfiction writing in the Johns Hopkins Master of Arts in Writing program.
At the business desk, I'm Alix Shadonnay wishing you a pleasant evening.

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