Magazine article American Libraries

Technically Speaking

Magazine article American Libraries

Technically Speaking

Article excerpt

Impressive Assistive Technology

Part of one aisle at this year's ALA Annual Conference exhibits was dedicated to an Accessibility Pavilion featuring vendors of assistive technology products. One of the most impressive of them was a unit that sits under a keyboard and functions as a cursor placement device and a Braille reader. It substituted for a screen, mouse, and keyboard so well that it was five minutes into the demonstration before I noticed that the vendor rep, who was navigating around Windows and various application programs like a hacker, was blind. Called the Alva 544 Satellite, the product was being exhibited by Keyboard Alternatives and Vision Solutions ( At $10,000, it's not cheap, but it sure was effective in enabling a blind person to hear what the computer had to display.

A company called Ai Squared was showing a product called the Bigshot Screen Magnifier. The software, which works with all Windows applications and magnifies screen images from 105% to 200% in 5% increments, costs $99. It can be downloaded from for a 30-day free trial.

The IBM Accessibility Center out of Austin, Texas (, had a booth showing its products and services. The center's flagship product is the Home Page Reader, which is designed to help blind and low-vision people navigate the Web aurally. Version 3 requires Windows 98 or higher and costs $142--or less if IBM is running a special (in late July the company was offering a $50 rebate).

DBH Attachments ( signed up as an exhibitor too late to make it into the area assigned to adaptive technology vendors. In a corner booth far away from "Adaptive Alley," the company was demonstrating two versions of what it billed "the only totally assistive ergonomic computer station you will ever need to purchase." Every one of the Accessible Computer Station's many surfaces was independently adjustable, and the main ones could be powered up and down at the press of a button. The product has only been on the market for a year and this was DBH's first ALA exhibit. A basic unit costs $850 and a fully loaded unit goes for about $1,500. A device called the Wrist Wizard ( was attached to one of the workstations being shown. It was designed to enable people with no mobility, strength, or control in their arms to type by supporting the wrists over the keyboard.

The AlphaSmart portable writing device (AL, Dec. …

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