Bits & Bytes
LETTING THE BLIND OPEN WINDOWS
BRAILLE COMPUTERS AND PCs EQUIPPED WITH ARTIFICIAL-speech synthesizers to speak the words on the screen have made it possible for blind users to do pretty much anything a sighted user can--that is, as long as they do
not need to work on an application using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software. The icons, overlapping windows, and point-and-click mouse that are the hallmarks of Windows-based programs are barriers to sightless users.
Enter TeleSensory Corp. in Mountain View, Calif., and its ScreenPower for Windows software, which translates the graphics depicted on the screen into usable, character-oriented information for blind people. ScreenPower identifies each icon, button, scroll bar, and command element and translates those descriptions into braille or artificial speech. It works by building a "tree" of information, with braille or audio "branches" that correspond to windows in the software program. Elements in the tree are identified by function rather than by how they look. With the computer's numeric keypad, the user can approximate the functions of a mouse, while being guided by voice prompts. The product is available now in braille-only, speech-only, or dual-mode versions for $995. It is compatible with more than 30 speech synthesizers and TeleSensory's own line of braille devices, including a laptop braille computer.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENG