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richmond va times dispatch article on new library workstation

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 22:45:55 -0500
Message-ID: <388927F3.77FB563F@clark.net>
To: vicug list <VICUG-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>, wai-ig list <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
CC: jstrdn@us.net
       Library brings Web to vision impaired / System reads
information
from
       Internet
             Friday, January 21, 2000
       BY GORDON HICKEY
       Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

       The voice sounds a little like a mechanical carnival barker,
but
that's
       probably just fine with the people who listen to it.
       The voice is staccato, utterly lacking in melody, and fast. But
despite
       its shortcomings, it is a recognizable voice. And it is reading
       information from the Internet and computer programs.
       That voice is opening a world that has been largely closed to
many
 blind
       and visually impaired people.
       Yesterday, Mayor Timothy M. Kaine helped 10-year-old Matt
Coffey cut
 the
       ribbon on a new Assisted Technology Computer Center at
Richmond's
Main
       Library on East
       Franklin Street. Matt's mother, Kathleen H. Coffey, a
transcriber
for
 the
       Police Department, helped develop the library's system.
Kathleen
 Coffey,
       who was blind, died last week of cancer at the age of 44.
       But her co-worker on the project, Scott White, was there to
explain
the
       system and to demonstrate it.
       White, who also is blind, is a senior programmer at Circuit
City.
His
       explanation of what the system does was decidedly simple: "It
turns
the
       information on the screen into speech."
       It uses a combination of software and hardware to accomplish
the
       technological feat.
       The system consists of three parts. One computer includes the
       equipment a blind person might need to read or create an
Internet
       document, a Word file or an Excel spreadsheet. It also includes
a
 scanner
       that will read out loud a printed page.
       A second computer includes software that will turn spoken words
into
an
       on-screen document.
       A third component is a video magnifier that enlarges printed
 documents for
       the visually impaired.
       Anyone who has ever looked at Web pages knows they can be a
mess,
       cluttered with ads, graphics and links to other pages. They are
 anything
       but linear.
       White explained that the JAWS software, which is what reads the
       information on the screen, "scans past that stuff and gets to
what I
 call
       the meat of the page."
       The equipment is so sophisticated that, "Pretty much anything
you
would
       do, with this software a blind person will be able to do."
       City Librarian Robert d'O. Rieffel said he began getting the
system
       installed about a year ago. "We wanted to make sure we had the
right
 stuff
       in the right place," he said.
       He asked the Library of Virginia for help and eventually got
it. The
 state
       library gave the city library a grant of $7,600. The city Human
 Services
       Commission kicked in $2,600, and the Circuit City Foundation
$500,
in
       addition to lending the services of White. The remainder of the
$12,500
       cost was paid by the city library.
       Charles Price, chairman of the Human Services Commission
Committee
on
       Elderly and Disabled Issues, attended the ribbon-cutting
ceremony.
 "This
       we consider a real milestone for Richmond," he said. "This is a
great
 way
       [for the disabled] to be in and of the world."
       White said the system is as easy to use as any other computer
 equipment,
       which is to say it will take a little practice. "If a person
walks
in
 off
       the street, nine times out of 10 they are not going to be able
to
use
       this," he said.
       But he will train the staff to train the users. And the library
has
       ordered audiotapes that will explain to any new user how the
system
 works.

       Rieffel said the library doesn't expect a run on the equipment,
though
       there are plenty of potential users. There are 768 legally
blind and
 2,042
       severely visually impaired residents in Richmond, he said.
       "People have asked us, 'Do you get a lot of requests?' The
answer is
 no,
       because we haven't had it," he said. Now that has changed, and
the
 library
       is looking forward to putting its new equipment to use.

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Received on Friday, 21 January 2000 22:46:06 GMT

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