Category Archives: Pen Drive

Free and Open Source Software to aid those with Visual Impairments

This blog comes from a talk given at the 4Sight Bradbury Centre in Sussex linking up our work with open innovation and open source Assistive Technologies on the JISC funded REALISE project as well as free software to access the web and a few links related to the use of mobile phones.

Portable USB Pen drives for use with Windows operating systems can run light weight programs with an accessible menu.  Examples are:

Accessible RSS News Reader
Accessible BBC iPlayer
Accessible Podcatcher
Accessible BBC Live Radio
Clock for time and reminders
Calendar for diary and events
Accessible Gutenberg Library for free books
Accessible Internet Radio Tuner
Accessible PDF for reading PDF files.
Internet Explorer Appearance Editor
Disk Explorer for working with files and folders.

More portable apps can be found on the JISC RSC NE Scotland site

Mobile phone apps are appearing all the time for Android phones such as eyes free, talkback & Digital Talking Timer.  The iPhone has built in accessibility features such as VoiceOver and  Zoom but there are many more apps such as  Eye Reader and Voice of Daisy etc.  There are blogs about Android Access and many more about the iPhone.

Nokia and Blackberry also have their accessibility sites.  Nokia phones use the Code Factory and Nuance systems of screen reading and magnification.  Blackberry uses Oratio and the freely available Clarity Theme.  There is also the mobile forums advice about phone option

Further Resources
AccessWatch
Screen Magnifiers

Links for Print to Audio that provide free software include

Web Access options

  • Firefox – Fire Vox for web page reading aloud, Readability to remove clutter,
  • ATbar – a cross browser toolbar with text enlargement, colour, font and line spacing changes, text to speech, dictionary and spell checker.
  • Web2Access – to learn more about which interactive and social networking sites are accessible.
  • Webanywhere listen to web pages being read aloud just by adding your chosen web address to the edit box on the site.
  • RNIB Accessibility toolbar for Internet Explorer
  • LowBrowse for Firefox – delivers web pages in a text friendly way with text to speech options and colour, font changes etc.
  • Black Window freeware – Enhance visibility and reduce distractibility of other programs

If you have any ideas for programs that you think would help your use of the computer please add them to the ideas already being discussed on the JISC funded REALISE project

AccessTools v2 – accessible menu for portable apps.

The latest version of the AccessTools Menu thanks to Chris Phethean who writes:

AccessTools menuThis year has seen a new version of the AccessTools menu system enter beta testing after another summer of development. It offers all the features of version 1 with the ability to tab through and use short cut keys for menu items, enlarge and change the font colours and background as well as launch programs directly from the pen drive without installation.  There is a new feature offering different languages and the ability to hide programs that are not required.  There are also easy links to Windows built in accessibility features such as the magnifier, onscreen keyboard and narrator text to speech.

In response to some issues which came to our attention during the testing of version 1 with regards to .NET runtime compatibility on older PCs, we decided to branch away from the original C# code and recreate the menu experience using Java. Whilst the Java program still requires a runtime environment to be installed on each machine, we are able to include this in the AccessTools package to be placed on the USB flashdrives. With the help of an open source tool, JSmooth, it was possible to wrap the Java Executable into a Windows .exe file, and in this process ensure that the Java Runtime placed on the USB drive will be used to launch the menu. At the cost of a slightly larger package size, this should ensure that most Windows PCs, whether they have Java installed already or not, will be able to run the menu.

Other issues were encountered with the Java version. Because Java programs run inside a virtual environment, getting them to communicate with the Windows Assistive Technologies is difficult. In order for screenreader use, the Java Access Bridge would need to be installed on any computer on which this functionality is required. Due to the portable nature of this project, this was not a suitable solution, and so we had to limit the visual appearance of this version (Java AWT was used instead of Swing, and the interface limited to mainly buttons).

Big improvements have been made under the hood of the new version of AccessTools. Due to the similarity of C# and Java, much of the code could be re-used with fairly small amounts of tweaking. This process allowed the previous code to be thoroughly reviewed, refined and improved, before any new code was even added to the system. The complicated nature of the downloader in Version 1, for example, has been simplified by ensuring that each application offered will be in the same format (a single zip file), which means we can offer a much more streamlined process of downloading and installing new applications.

Finally, we owe many thanks to Fx Software who have kindly allowed us to redistribute their software as part of this project. This means we can add this wide range of incredibly useful assistive technologies to the open source tools provided in version 1.