Future Reflections          Fall 2007

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Access Technology at the NFB

by Anne Taylor, Director of Access Technology

Anne TaylorThere is no place quite like the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) at the NFB National Center in Baltimore; it is a unique and ever-expanding collection of current access technology. The evaluations performed on the IBTC equipment are impartial, and the NFB Jernigan Institute provides this knowledge to the public. Anyone who is looking to purchase a piece of software or equipment, or anyone with an interest in access technology is welcome to visit this facility.

The impact of an initiative like the IBTC does not simply lie in having the access technology sitting around; the access technology (AT) team associated with it is always on hand with expert opinions and qualified help. The team can provide tours of the IBTC, give feedback on specific questions, and address a variety of technology issues that visitors may have encountered. Whether you are looking at embossers, notetakers, cell phones or even low-vision equipment, the AT specialists can give you advice tailored to your needs, either in person or over the phone.

The technology specialists support the Technology Answer Line, and will help you with any technology questions no matter where you live or which aspect of AT you want to cover. In addition to this, we can provide you with print or Braille copies of the Technology Resource List, an annually updated listing of what is available in access technology. The list is also available online from the NFB Web site at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Technology_Resource_List.asp>. The resource list gives an overview of the technology that is available for blind users, prices, manufacturer contact information, and other helpful details.

A new and perhaps less well-known feature of the technology initiative at the NFB is the Accessible Home Showcase (AHS). This space holds samples of mainstream home appliances that are usable by the blind. Because none of the current appliances on the market are truly accessible, we have opted to focus on those machines that are most usable and efficient. The showcase covers large appliances, such as ranges, microwaves, dishwashers, and the like, and other small electronics as well. The NFB welcomes visitors to this new facility, and the AT team can help if you are trying to find something for your home.

As with the IBTC, there is a list of appliances and electronics associated with the Accessible Home Showcase. This list contains a brief description of the nonvisual interface and suggestions about things to look for and consider before buying a unit. It describes the machines that are on display in the AHS, as well as some other easily available appliances that you are likely to come across when you go shopping for a new appliance. The list is available in Braille, print, and online (see <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/accessible_home_showcase.asp>). The online version is updated as often as needed. Our access technology team welcomes any additions to or comments about the list so we can continue to improve it as a practical tool that helps consumers find the brands and models that will best suit their needs.

We encourage all NFB members and other access technology users to communicate their experiences to our IBTC staff. Because the NFB is in close communication with the access technology manufacturers and many mainstream technology companies, your comments can change the look of future products. The AT team is always working to get better products to the consumers. Part of that commitment means that our AT team is often involved in testing units for manufacturers before these products are released.

Web accessibility is high on the agenda for many people. The AT team is very involved in promoting better design to increase Web site accessibility. Our team tests and evaluates sites, and awards the NFB Non-visual accessibility seal to those sites that qualify. Certified Web sites are listed on the NFB Web site, and members can use the web accessibility section of the NFB site at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/certification_intro.asp> to notify the AT team of inaccessible Web sites.

The International Braille and Technology Center and the Access Technology team have some formidable resources. Please do not hesitate to use us when you want help, advice, or just a look around. You can reach the AT team via option 5 on the NFB main menu at (410) 659-9314; or you can e-mail us at <cvangerven@nfb.org>. The Access Technology staff does not customarily provide individual training sessions; however, the AT staff reserves the right to evaluate individual requests. For further information, please contact Anne Taylor at <ataylor@nfb.org>.

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