Many times, I am presented with the following scenario; I am at someone’s house, a Public Library, or even an Internet Cafe. There are computers available, but none have a screen reader installed. I need to look up something on Google, or visit some other website, but cannot do this on my own because the computer available does not talk. If I have Microsoft available, I could try to activate its imbedded narrator. While this is not a preferable solution, maybe I could get what info I need. Perhaps I have a Mac computer without Microsoft’s narrator, so maybe I could try to use Apple’s voice over solution. Maybe I don’t even know for sure what is installed, I just need to get to the internet, check my e-mail, or in some cases I’ve wanted to help someone download a software and use it.
Up until recently, I have been out of luck in this scenario. If all I want to do is check e-mail or access the web, I have needed my portable note taker, such as a Braille note from Humanware, a Pac Mate from Freedom Scientific, or Braille sense from GW Micro. There are several more options out there now for note takers or Personal Data Assistants, many of which are pretty pricey and you don’t get quite the same functionality as you do from a PC. Of course I can always use my own laptop, but in these cases, I don’t have it with me. So what is the solution? Well, there are two that I have found so far and want to touch on. If anyone knows of any others out there, I’d love to have some input.
The first solution is just for web access. This program is called web anywhere, and it will work on any operating system and in most cases can be started independently, without sighted assistance. You don’t have to download any software; you simply type “wa.cs.washington.edu” into the run area of windows, whether it be windows xp or windows vista. You can even run this on a Mac and it works the same. Once the program is running, you can type control + L to get to the address bar and type in any URL. There are several other keys you can use to navigate a page and while this is not as powerful as an installed screen reader, such as jaws or window-eyes, it works well enough to view basic web content.
The second solution would not only give you access to web content, but other software installed on a computer. This program is called System Access. It is a less expensive software and completely portable. It comes on a flash card, which you can use with any computer, either in a built-in PCMCIA slot, or by using a USB card reader. Unfortunately, the only real info I have on this is what is in the description, as I have not purchased it myself to try it out. I have spoken to several people who have used it however, and they say that with most applications, it works very well. It does not require installation, it simply runs off of the flash card and then you just take it out when you are done.
As I said, these are the only two solutions I have found so far, but I am always looking. Sometimes I get tired of lugging my lap top around, or simply don’t think I’ll need it and then end up wanting to do something on a computer. Something like this would be great in a library setting, where you need to use their computers for research, or checking your web based e-mail. In fact, if you watch the video on the web anywhere main page, it shows someone doing just that. System access would be great for the web, as well as using word, outlook, or some other software already installed on a computer, and you would only have to carry a small card and possibly a little reader. Please, if anyone knows of some other programs out there, freely comment!!