ACB 2011 wrap-up featuring LevelStar orion and Braille t-shirts, part 3

This final installment of the ACB wrap-up focuses on two exhibitors at opposite ends of the access spectrum.  One high tech, one no tech.  What do they have in common?  Both make ingenious use of Braille.


If you don’t already have an Apple iPad, it is likely you want one.  If you don’t want one, you likely have one of the competing tablet PC’s.  If not, then you either prefer hieroglyphics or, like me, there are about ten thousand things you need to spend the money on first.

One reason, though, you may have skipped the tablet craze might have more to do with accessibility and the desire to have one gadget do many things, instead of carrying several hand-held devices that serve a variety of purposes.  I found myself intrigued by the LevelStar Orion.


Here’s the scoop, right from the literature, about Orion 18:

Packed with the most advanced features ever integrated into a Braille notetaker, like cellular phone and 3G communications, full  GPS navigation, and a camera with text recognition, the sleek Orion 18 Braille tablet by LevelStar is compact enough to fit in a  purse or coat pocket. Orion combines its quiet and stunningly ergonomic Braille keyboard with an 18-cell Braille display and  router keys, talks with human-like Ivona Speech, and is The World’s first notetaker for the blind powered by Android, the fastest  growing mobile environment in the World.


There seems to be a dichotomy in the access community about whether or not mainstream gadgets should be made accessible, or whether devices specialized for people with disabilities are preferable.  I can understand both points of view.  The benefit of having a specialized gadget is that presumably, the manufacturers "get it," hopefully innovating with a complete understanding of the needs of the population they serve.


On the other hand, specialized gadgets can be prohibitively expensive, and if mainstream options can be made accessible, then the price usually goes down in proportion to the size of the market.  Simple supply and demand.


On Monday, July the 25th, at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, Tek Talk will feature the LevelStar Orion 18 Braille tablet during a one hour- long program. Following a product presentation and demonstration by Marc Mulcahy, Marc and Guido will answer your questions live.


How to participate:
Approximately 15 minutes prior to the event start time; link to The Pat Price Tek Talk Training Room at:

Alternatively, Select The Pat Price Tek Talk Training Room at:
Enter your first and last names on the sign-in screen.

Want more info?  Tek Talk is a feature of Accessible World, a division of Helping Hands For The Blind, a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization. For  more information about Accessible World and Tek talk, please Contact:
Robert Acosta, Chair
Accessible World


Among the exhibitors at most trade shows, you’ll often find the requisite selection of souvenirs, whether in the form of customized promotional swag, gift shop fare, or T shirts.  At the ACB 2011 event, however, you would have found Braille T Shirts by Alice Lynch.


Alice is an artist who creates her Braille T Shirts using metal dots or sparkly crystals, all set by hand.  In training as a certified Braille transcriptionist, Alice sets the dots according to appropriate specs for proportion and spacing, making her shirts eminently readable, as well as fashionable.  You can find her here: and follow her on Twitter here:  @brailletshirts.
Please share your own reviews of products or services exhibited at ACB 2011.  Anything blow you away not mentioned here?  Don’t forget to read my previous posts, parts 1 and 2 of the wrap-up.


ACB 2011 wrap-up featuring Piano Tuning School and STEPP, part 2

In part 2 of my ACB 2011 wrap-up, I’m sharing two intriguing means by which to get an edge on the competition, either vocationally or scholastically.


Looking for work?  It isn’t often that you find a direct employment opportunity at a trade show, but I was fascinated by the Piano Tuning School.  Listen, we are all aware that the US economy is pathetic right now, and I don’t need to remind anyone that the job market for people with disabilities is more competitive than ever, if for no other reason than people who have disabilities are competing with many more non-disabled and highly qualified individuals than ever.  The job market is brutal, disabled or not.  why not give yourself an edge with a skill you can learn now, use now, and also use as needed in the future?  What’s wonderful about this group is that they teach you everything you need to know about how to tune pianos, but the best news is, you don’t need to know how to  play the piano to do this work.  Did you know that changes in weather can cause a piano to become out of tune?  So can moving one from one place to another, and any number of other factors.  Piano tuners are needed!  Hey, I need one!  I just moved my piano to my new home, and now it sounds horrible.  Call this place, and get yourself a really useful skill.  Not sure how you would get to all those warbly, out of tune pianos?  No problem!  They’ll even hook you up with mobility training.  Love these guys.  Call them!


 School of Piano Technology


The training sessions are split into two 10 month periods, preceded by hearing and aptitude testing.  You can live near the school, which is located in Vancouver, Washington.  On the web site, you’ll find all the info you need, and when I met the gentlemen at the ACB event, I realized that these are dedicated, passionate folks seeking to improve the lives and livelihoods of people who are blind or visually impaired.  It’s worth a closer look.


One of the innovative new ways for students to gain equal access to educational materials is via the  STEPP program.  STEPP stands

for Student E-rent Pilot Project, which offers a unique new way for students to easily and affordably get textbooks.  Kevin Chao,

a program consumer, student advisor and program quality assurance specialist, shares his experiences.  Whether you are a student

or an educator, you may want to STEPP up to this new idea.
"I would like to share two fantastic resources for any college student
or instructor, which I think should be advocated for, encouraged, and
utilized by all.  Like most, I’ve used human readers, scanned books, used RFB&D, and
worked with disabled students services to get eTextBooks from
publisher. All these things served their purposes and time, and it’s
time to move on.”


Chao continues:  “In fall of 2010, I broke away from the status quo, which includes: not
using RFB&D, not scanning textbooks,  and not having to be so reliant
on disabled student services. Two companies have made this possible:
CourseSmart and AMAC.  This has allowed equal access, independence,
and a true forward studying experience.  It’s never been possible for
us as blind students, instructors, or even providers to use an
innovative eTextBook service.”


Here are some of the program highlights:

* CourseSmart for mainstream, accessible, and highly marked-up eTextBooks
* Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC) for affordable, high-quality,
and efficient braille and tactile graphics for textbooks, exams,
handouts, assignments, etc is a mainstream accessible eTextBook rental
service, which all students can take advantage of. This includes
students with or without print-related disabilities (blind, low
vision, learning disabled).


* Mainstream access to eTextBooks
* Affordable, timely, and true access
* in-book, chapter, or section searches.
*Very effectively and easily  navigate table of contents (chapters,
sections, etc)
* Jump to specific page
* Highly tagged/marked-up: headings 1-5 for structured navigation,
alttext for description of graphics, table for formatted
representation of data, and lists for nicely formatted bullet points.
* is extremely committed to problem-solving.
* Works with Windows (NVDA and JAWS); Mac OS X and iOS (VoiceOver);
Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC) will
work with institutions to provide braille, tactile graphics, and
remediated eText. AMAC has very high-quality and standards and will lift
stress off DSS, allowing DSS to focus on providing service, not


Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC)
* DSS, institutions, organizations, and companies have no excuse not to
provide braille, tactile graphics, or other alternative media.


"The program is affordable, and offers excellent technical support."  Says Chao.  "This is the now and future of how students,

instructors, and all in post-secondary education will obtain, work with, and enjoy accessible
course material."


More info?  Here’s the STEPP site:


STEPP up to the future


Want   to ask Kevin some questions about the program?  Find him on Twitter:  @KevinChao89.   Another wrap-up post to follow.  Thanks for reading.




ACB11 wrap-up featuring Optelec, A T Guys, part 1

Arthur C. Clarke is famous for saying that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  That is precisely how I feel whenever I spend time at one of the many assistive technology conferences held throughout the year.  I always come away with a feeling that it won’t be long before any type of disability is indistinguishable from ability.  Assistive technologies have become so useful, so impressive, so…magical, I just cannot wait to see what’s next. 


At this year’s 50th anniversary of the American Council of the Blind conference and exhibition, I was a first-time exhibitor.  Busy selling my  Elegant Insights Braille Creations jewelry and accessories, I did not have as much time as I had hoped to wander the exhibit hall.  When I did manage a quick walk-through, though, I was duly intrigued and impressed by the booths I did visit.  Here is a wrap up of just a few of the great tools that I think are worth a closer look.


The new ClearReader+ from Optelec just about made me cry.  Even after reading through the web site, posting the press release and tweeting with Optelec, I was amazed when I saw it in action.  The ClearReader+ is really a complete tool for both people who have some vision, and those who don’t.  it can be used as a full-featured CCTV, as well as a full-featured OCR scanner.  Brilliant.


Check out Optelec ClearReader info here.


My shopping list also includes a couple of super cool products from A T Guys.  A T Guys offers affordable technology products to enhance the lives of the blind and visually impaired. Their product line includes accessible cell phone software, bar code scanners, iPhone screen protectors, the iBill money identifier, and accessible games. A T Guys also features products from some of the leading technology manufacturers including GW Micro, Duxbury Systems, Hims, the Sendero Group, and KNFB Reading Technology.


I was crazy about the iBill money identifier.  It is very small, ladies, you will not object to carrying this in your purse.  It was just a bit thicker than my Olympus DS-50, and it was as accurate as it was easy to use.  The best news, though, is the price.  It’s only $99!  I’m sold.  


Also on the must-have list is the bar code scanner.  Again, it is small and connects via USB cable to a laptop.  The bar code reader works with Windows, Mac, and Linux-based computers as well as the BrailleNote, Pac Mate, BrailleSense, and Icon/BraillePlus.  The software is free, and there is no cost for a database update.  This is cool:  The scanner is omnidirectional, making it simple for anyone, especially users who are blind, to easily find an item’s bar code.  Again, i was particularly impressed by the price.  It’s only $299, a fraction of what others cost.


Here’s how to get yours:

A T Guys
(269) 216-4798
Skype: atguys
Twitter: atguys


Stay tuned this week for part 2 of my ACB11 wrap-up.