ATFAQ001 – Assistive Technology FAQ – Q: Why is AT so expensive? Q: Will Sesame Smart Phone work for me? Q: Help me find a one-handed keyboard? Q: Are the free screen readers good enough?


AT FAQ logo

Show Notes:
Brian Norton, Mark Stewart, Belva Smith
Question 1: How do you know you’re purchasing quality AT?  Is there a consumer reports for AT?
Job Accommodation Network |
AbleData |
Question 2: I am blind.  Will the new Sesame Smart Phone work for me and will it be available in Australia?
Question 3: I’m an amputee and need one-handed keyboard or mouse access? What types of solutions are out there for me?
Datalux | discontinued
Question 4: Do I need an expensive screen reader or are the free ones good enough?
——-transcript follows ——

BRIAN NORTON: Welcome to AT FAQ, assistive technology frequently asked questions. I’m your host Brian Norton, manager of clinical assistive technology at Easter Seals crossroads. This is a show in which we address your questions about assistive technology, the hardware, software, tools and gadgets that help people with disabilities lead more independent and fulfilling lives. Have a question you’d like answered on our show? Send a tweet with the hashtag #ATFAQ or call our listener line at 317-721-7124. The world of assistive technology has questions come and we have answers.

Welcome to episode 001 of AT FAQ. I want to take some time to introduce our panelists is today. These are some good friends of mine who I work with day in and day out. The first person is Belva Smith. Belva, you want to hey?


BRIAN NORTON: And Mark Stewart is also here.


BRIAN NORTON: And my name is Brian Norton, and we also have a Wade Wingler in the room as well.

WADE WINGLER: Hey, everyone.

BRIAN NORTON: I guess the first thing I want to do is have everybody go around and introduce themselves, tell our listeners how you guys got your chops in assistive technology, what kind of brought you to the board of assistive technology, how you got your start. That would springboard us into some of the questions that we have for today’s show. Belva, do you want to start us?

BELVA SMITH: I’m Belva Smith, I got introduced to assistive technology about 15 years ago. It was through a screen reader, and my best friend at the time who is blind was asking me questions about how to do certain things on the computer, and I was shocked as to how she could do anything on a computer. Here I am 15 years later still doing computer training with screen readers and others assistive technology as well.

BRIAN NORTON: Great. How about you, Mark?

MARK STEWART: I’ve been with this team for about eight years working in computer access focused assistive technology on the clinical assistive technology team. What brought me to this team was an awareness of what Easter Seals did from past background and also dabbling in some other areas related to assistive technology in one form or fashion, arguably under the umbrella of assistive technology overall, and then this wonderful opportunity came up. I had a Masters Degree in kinesiology from Indiana University from about 20 years ago. I’m an ATP, certified brain injury specialist, employment specialist. I worked in different areas of disability services that I think I’ll merges together pretty well and helps me in the work I do here.

BRIAN NORTON: Along with that, my name is Brian Norton, and I’m going to be hosting the show here. I’m also a part of the Easter Seals team here. I manage our clinical assistive technology team. I got my start in assistive technology probably about 15, 16 years ago. I came to Easter Seals Crossroads year as an employment consultant and work with folks, helping them find jobs, maintain their jobs, and really got interested in the technology that can help people do that. The position came open on our team here in assistive technology at our agency, and I jumped at the chance and have been here ever since.

I guess if there’s something in assistive technology that really gets my juices going and getting excited, it would be the out-of-the-box assistive technology where if something needs to be fabricated or made, may be some sort of a ticket tearing machine or other kinds of things, those are the things that give me going.

So specifically, I know both of you guys are team leads on our team. Belva, you’re over the vision team, and Mark, you’re over the mobility and cognition team on our staff. Tell me a little bit about what those rules and tell.

BELVA SMITH: On the vision team, we have myself as team lead and two full-time assistive technology specialists working with our clinical cases, and then we have a third individual on our team who is working primarily with an iPad grant currently which is a little different than what we do. Do you want me to talk a little bit about what it is we do?

BRIAN NORTON: Sure, absolutely.

BELVA SMITH: Typically, we get a referral for an individual who is he a looking for a job or maybe currently employed, and they are looking for some technology that will help them be able to do a particular job. In our case, our caseloads primarily vision so we will be looking at computer access, print access, and things like that, notetaking devices. We do also work with college students that are looking for technology that will help them attain the degree that they set forth in their plans. We will meet with them in their environment and look at their goals and their barriers, and then we will work through those barriers with different types of technology. Thanks to INDATA, we are often able to allow an individual to use a particular type of technology to make sure that it’s the right fit before following through with the recommendation for the technology. Once the proper technology has been identified, we will continue to work with the individual to make sure that everything is installed properly and working correctly. The next step that would be the training piece to make sure they know how to effectively and efficiently use what it is that has been recommended for them. And then we take a step back and allow them to move forward doing, or move on from, their job or getting their education. If at any time they have a problem with the technology, they are usually the first person that they will call. They’ll explain to us what’s going on, and from there we may need to meet with them again to work out whatever problems are going on, or sometimes we can just give them a quick how to fix it over the phone and that will take care of the problem and they can move on.

BRIAN NORTON: That’s great. How about you, Mark?

MARK STEWART: That was well said as usual. To check on to that a little bit, as you hinted at, we are team leads and some specialty area. Belva, as she said, is the vision and sensory team lead, and I’m the team lead for the physical and cognition focus areas. Otherwise, most of that description with regards to service flow and philosophy is exactly the same, and I’m proud to say that it’s the same on our end.

Something else that I’m really proud of that I’ll tag onto that is a collaborative approach that we have here at Easter Seals, and frankly even the philosophy that we have a collaborative approach across the community with other professionals as well. Results are what we are focused on. We have a group of individuals here, a pretty eclectic, ragtag fleet of very talented and very passionate people that are specialists in particular areas. As a collective group, that’s where the real strength comes in. There’s just no way that one individual person could gain all of that knowledge and still be young enough to get out in the field and practice. As a team, I think it’s amazing the wealth of knowledge we have here.

BRIAN NORTON: That’s kind of what brought about the show, related topic of the whole show. We find ourselves sitting on the table talking about the questions that our consumers have, talking about how we resolve those. It’s kind of a common experience of ours to figure out these questions. We have all the answers come and we realize there are a lot more questions out there than what we handle internally. So we are looking to develop relationships outside of our organization to be able to answer those questions.

I do want to intro Wade as well over here. Wade is in the background. He’s kind of working out all of the audio board. I want to introduce him because, quite frankly come he will be able to stay quite the whole show.

WADE WINGLER: You guys know that I will have to talk some. That’s just all there is to it.


WADE WINGLER: They are all given me the look right now. My name is Wade Wingler and I’m the director of the program here, but I also host Assistive Technology Update, which is our flagship flow that put us on the radar in terms of doing this kind of content. My main goal is to chop audio and make sure the sound levels are acceptable and things like that. I’ve been in the field for over 20 years and will probably jump in from time to time. So I’m going to try to keep my mute button down, but when you guys hear from me, know that I just can’t help it.

BRIAN NORTON: No problem. So we talked a little bit about the show concept. It’s a question and answer format. We have people submitting questions to us via Twitter with the hashtag #ATFAQ. We also have a listener line set up. Is 317-721-7124. You can also send us an email at Or go to our website which is

What we want to do with the show is be able to have people submit questions. Like Mark said, we have a pretty eclectic team with lots of experience and expertise in different areas of assistive technology. We want to be able to try to answer those questions for folks. The show itself is going to be released every couple of weeks, so we will record one week and the following week will be released, and we will continue that so that it will be released every other week.



BELVA SMITH: Can you tell the listeners how they will find a show?

BRIAN NORTON: Thank you, Belva. You can find our show in iTunes if you look up ATFAQ, or you can go to our website which is We are also going to try to publish the podcast to Stitcher and/or you can go to our website which is and you can find our show there as well.

BELVA SMITH: Thank you.

BRIAN NORTON: So we have been gathering up questions for the past few weeks, and we have three or four questions that we will be going through today. The first one is from the National Rehabilitation Information Center. We received it via the hashtag #ATFAQ. The question was some AT can be costly. How do you know if you are purchasing a quality product? Is there a Consumer Reports for assistive technology? So I guess the first question is why is AT so expensive?

BELVA SMITH: Can a jump in there on that one?

BRIAN NORTON: Absolutely.

BELVA SMITH: Many years ago, in 2003 when I went to Freedom Scientific to become a certified JAWS trainer, I couldn’t wait to get there and asked them why on earth Johnson so expensive. As they walked us through their room of technicians that were sitting there working — I guess I shouldn’t say technicians, but programmers, that were sitting there working on that JAWS software program, I asked why on earth is this so expensive. Their answer was very good. I have shared that with many people over the years. It was a two-part answer. Primarily because of the work that goes into it, every single day they have a small group of programmers that are working to make sure that their software is compatible with the ever-changing Microsoft platforms, and they are fixing bugs and cracks in the program. The second part of that was because is not highly in demand. We may have Microsoft Windows or a Mac OSX in pretty much every home in the world, but we don’t have JAWS in every home, so the demand isn’t as high; therefore, the cost is higher.

MARK STEWART: That’s a little bit of an Economics 101 thing. If the number of units you’re going to put out our small, and the cost for manufacturing is higher. If it’s going to be high-volume, then it’s going to cost less. Dovetailing off of what Belva said, also the tech support after the fact that involved a lot of times with assistive technology and is a little more necessary as a cost as well. Sometimes that is included with the technology.

BRIAN NORTON: Something I’ve recognized over the last users that assistive technology is getting less expensive as things are now put into more retail oriented devices. It doesn’t quite cut as much as it used too, but it’s still rather expensive because of what you guys were saying, the fabrication costs and the limited demand for these products.

MARK STEWART: It really is an important question, isn’t it. A couple of other thoughts. We need to keep bringing the cost down so things are more accessible for people with disabilities. We need to keep pushing toward universal design. Wade has a lot of segments on those topics on his radio shows and podcast and what have you. It’s a little bit consistent with what we are trying to do here, just get the word out about assistive technology and normalize things for folks and make things more accessible and more cost effective. At the same time, Belva’s example is a great one on how it’s still very legitimate for a lot of folks and reasonable and understandable that things cost more, and we still need to find a way to procure it for a person with a disability even though it seems the more costly than it would be for high-volume types of implementations.

BRIAN NORTON: Absolutely.

With assistive technology costing so much, the next question that comes from them would be how do you know if you are purchasing a quality product?

BELVA SMITH: I’ll jump in there first again. Fortunately for the individuals that are looking for the appropriate screen reading software, there are trial versions or demos that can be used prior to the decision as to which one you should purchase. So that would be the best recommendation that I would have, is that you should first try to either talk to friends or family members that may be using it already, so word-of-mouth recommendation, and then always look for the demo or the trial version of what it might be.

MARK STEWART: I’ll dovetail off of that a little bit. Every state come every province has a tech act project. They often have low libraries associated with them. Here in Indiana we have the INDATA Project, and they have a large loan library where you can get your hands on products where you can try them out before you buy them. It’s kind of the try it before you buy it concept. Using and trialing something before you lay out the money for it is important. I can tell you how many gadgets I’ve got at home that I thought was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I ended up getting it home, get it out of the package, and thought that really wasn’t what I thought was going to be. I wish I would’ve had the opportunity to try it before I actually brought it home and paid the money for it.

BELVA SMITH: I think it’s also important to look for your local assistive technology agency or person to discuss with them what they might know about a particular product. Because you are right, Brian, I’ve got that big box of gadgets that I’ve bought because this has got to be cool, right? Not so much. Try to get as much information as you can from your specialist in the area.

MARK STEWART: And friends, others with disabilities. It’s becoming a little cliché, but it shouldn’t. It’s legitimate and powerful, especially if you know how to use it right. Google it.

BELVA SMITH: Google it.

MARK STEWART: Can we expand on that just a little bit just in case? I would say Google it and cross-reference. How do you guys Google? Not to put you on the spot, but I know you have answers to this. When you go to do your background research on a product, how do you screen that? How many sites to go to? How many reviews do you read?

BELVA SMITH: I may read endless amounts of reviews, but when I Google, I Google and look for the usually top three or four results. If I have to go much deeper than that, I start feeling like I’m not getting reliable information. I will also look for the manufacture of a particular product and start to do some research on that particular company to find out what kind of reviews the company itself has.

BRIAN NORTON: Have you guys found any objective — the third part of the question was is there a Consumer Reports for assistive technology. In the past, I look for objective point of view or reviews of different types of products and services. Did you guys find a Consumer Reports for assistive technology?

MARK STEWART: Quick, humble answer for me is no, not that I know of. I don’t know every site out there. I know the Job Accommodation Network is a really good site. Frankly I’ve been in the trenches along with my specialty area that, while I am always trying to stay current with things and researching new products, I’m talking to other experts who have had their hands on certain types of products. I find that to be reliable information or I play off of my past experience.

There is that factor that I know we talk about a lot on our team with implementation of assistive technology for people with disabilities. If it’s a situation where the person — the situation or the individual isn’t that bombproof with regards to what we are going to be getting for them, in other words we can’t mess around with getting a lemon. We can’t be pushing the limits of bleeding edge technology. We really need that reliability factor. That’s very justifiable sometimes. That’s why you and I talk about it a lot, that sometimes why we hold back a little bit when a new operating system comes out on the iPhone or what have you. We have our radar up. We don’t just jump on it and say let’s get it out to everyone with a disability. We have to screen it first.

So a Consumer Reports website specifically? I don’t know. But that would be another great resource if someone knew of one.

BRIAN NORTON: There are a couple of websites that I’ve used and have gone to in the past. One is AbleData is a great website. It’s a little outdated is what I find. Some of the information there can be outdated. It’s kind of hard to find some of the products you are looking for. But that is a resource. I know in the blind and low vision communities, places like the AFB have something called Access World where they do lots of product comparisons and will give you their professional opinion on the good, the pros and cons of a particular device versus other similar technology. But I think you’re right, Mark. I’ve not found an up to date, reliable source for consumer AT reports. It’s a lot of word-of-mouth, talking to my friends, talking to other folks in the business, talking to consumers and then googling it like you said.

MARK STEWART: Technology is changing so rapidly. It may really be hard to find that Consumer Reports site that has the resources to state up to speed where folks like us scrutinize a bit and said that is our Bible, so to speak. So what we are doing is cross-referencing and double checking and trying to stay current and find the best information that way from a number of good in one way or the other. Wade, I know will we use but I’m not just thinking of it at the moment, the good folks down at the Easter Seals in Texas with regard to apps.

BRIAN NORTON: BridgingApps. That’s another great resource. does a lot with prescreening different apps for both Apple devices and android devices. They are lots of folks comment about what they offer for folks and also what the usability is, are they good apps. I think that the regular segment on one of our other shows.

WADE WINGLER: Are you cross promoting my show, Brian?


WADE WINGLER: So the folks at BridgingApps usually two or three times a month call in and do an app review which is a really useful section of the show. In the meantime, you can find them at

BELVA SMITH: I think user groups are also another good place, especially for the folks that are using screen readers. There are several different user groups out there where you can go and get the feedback for the folks that are actually using the technology and how they are using it. I also wanted to mention at this point AppleVis, because if you’re looking for different apps that are available for the blind users, you can go to AppleVis and they’ve got a great list of different apps there and some reviews on them as well.

BRIAN NORTON: That’s great. I think that kind of wraps that question up. We talked about why AT is so expensive. We talked about the high cost of fabrication and the limited demand, that Economics 101 theory behind that. How do you know if you’re purchasing a quality product: Talking to other users of the technology, using the tech act project in your state and other resources that we talked about. And then there really isn’t a really up to date, consistent Consumer Reports for assistive technology, but we threw a couple of those places out there. We will probably try to include some of those things in our show notes at the end of the show.

The second question that came in was from a person who is totally blind. He had heard about a new product that just came out earlier this month. It was called the Sesame Phone. His question is can you tell me more about the Sesame Phone? He says I am totally blind, and will it work for me? And the third question on there, is it sold in Australia? Anybody want to talk about the Sesame phone?

BELVA SMITH: It’s not necessarily for the person who is blind. I think it’s going to be a great piece of technology. Of course I would like to get my hands on it and actually see what it can do, but from what I read in the reviews, it’s not going to be — the target audience won’t be for the blind users.

BRIAN NORTON: Sure. So in my research on the phone itself, it sounds like it’s a touch free smartphone. So what it does, it uses the front forward facing camera to be able to look at the user. And it allows the user to have a mouse pointer put on the screen. And then it does something I call and refer to as kind of dwell select. So if you hold the cursor in a certain area on the screen, maybe over top of an app for a certain period of time, it brings up some swiping options, which are really commonplace, the gesturing features of most touchscreen smart phones, it’ll bring up a list of different things that you can do at the point at which that cursor is located.

So, again, I don’t think the target audience is your blind and low vision users. I think it’s more for folks with some physical challenges. But it’s a really interesting product.

MARK STEWART: Absolutely. Moving forward from the question specifically about its use for somebody with low vision or blindness, for the folks with physical impairments, from my experience over the last decade or so, now, I have not had my hands on this to really do some reliability testing, but certainly from what I’ve looked at so far, they’re well intentioned and they even know their stuff in terms of they’re trying to cover, there definitely is that need there. There’s all kinds of workarounds or techniques that we implement to not even work around but actually be successful in allowing somebody with a significant dexterity issue or physical impairment to access a smartphone. But even when we get it all figured out, it might involve three, four pieces of equipment, take extra time, take extra steps. So all of the initiatives to kind of streamline that from, I don’t know, the phrase “the dematerialization of things” and then of course the simplification of things, making things more efficient and even cost effective, all of those things are great directions to go in. And it seems like this device is headed that way.

BRIAN NORTON: Right. One thing I like about their website is a lot of their new smartphones are touch enabled. So you have to be able to interact with the screen itself. And on there, on their website they talk about touch is overrated. Why don’t we just look at the screen and be able to operate the mouse that way.

If you want to learn more about the sesame phone, you can go to their website. It’s And they have lots and lots of resources there. Several user videos where they actually walk you through the different features to be able to explain a little bit more about how it works.

As far as it being available in Australia, I would assume so. You can go to their website actually I did reach out to the company. I did not hear back from them about whether it’s for sale in Australia. But I would assume it is.

MARK STEWART: Can I touch on the concept of the time being right? Now certainly there may have been some brilliant minds involved in coming up with this, but there’s also that concept in assistive technology overall that the idea is there, but especially people that are really in the know and really understand that we’re trying to fix a problem, not cause another problem, sometimes the software isn’t there or the expense is too high. And it’s really exciting that if this phone proves to be what it looks to be, it’s taking technology applications that we’ve known about for some time that are used on a full blown computer that actually have had their challenges over the years that have gotten to the point where they are really reliable but they’re not start hone ready just because the phone is so small and the processing chip is not nearly as capable. If we’ve now arrived to an era where that can work extremely well for folks with significant physical disabilities, that’s just a wonderful thing.

BRIAN NORTON: Right, right. That’s kind of the way technology is going. It’s moving toward, you know, bigger computer systems back down to these mobile devices that people can take with them wherever they go. So, absolutely.

MARK STEWART: We always have to — sorry. But we always have to, out in the field, as you know, we’re always answering those questions and sometimes having to say I am current on that topic. I’m the person for that question. I am the person to give you the answer and I’m current with it, and the answer unfortunately is not yet.

BELVA SMITH: That’s often the answer to the question about new technology for the visually impaired and blind because they’re always coming out with the newest and the greatest and this is going to be the end-all, do-all device and unfortunately that’s not often the case. I’ve seen over the years that I’ve been involved many pieces of different devices and software both that have been introduced as the greatest and then the price is so high and the technology just isn’t there. And so the product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. And that often is why   or that’s what taught me over the years to say: Let’s wait a minute and let this product be on for a while. And let us play with it and find out just how reliable it’s going to be and how functional it’s going to be.

BRIAN NORTON: Right. And it’s not quite available yet. It’s still kind of an indiegogo campaign. So there’s lots of unanswered questions. But I’m sure as there’s more and more information that comes out about it, we’ll be able to better answer, you know, just how applicable and useful it will be for folks who have those physical impairments that make that touch interface to a smartphone or mobile device difficult.

The third question we have coming in today was this person is an amputee and he says “I’m an amputee and need a one handed keyboard and mouse access. What types of solutions are out there for me?” and so I’ll just throw that out to our group today.

MARK STEWART: So I’ll speak to the question. But I have to say in the beginning I need to know more. I pride myself in doing consumer-centered work. And I’m certain if I met this person, I certainly would listen to that and they’re very likely right. But one of the possibilities is I haven’t met them and they might not necessarily need a one handed keyboard. They might be okay with a full keyboard. There’s a steep learning curve when you switch to a significantly different form factor in keyboard. If it’s   it not be, but I’m interested in the task. If it’s a job related thing or school related thing, then we’re going to look at that with regards to whether they’re only going to use one keyboard? Or will they be switching from keyboard to keyboard, station to station, things like that.

With that said, simply moving forward, there are one handed keyboards. Adesso is a good reliable product that we’ve used a lot over the years. The magic to that is just a shrunken down form factor. Back in the day it was, oh, how would we say it? A little more magical because laptops weren’t very prominent. And here’s a keyboard that’s super, super, super small. Well now with all due respect to Adesso and how it helps folks so much with disabilities, the keyboard I’m thinking of is a shrunken mini keyboard but it looks a lot like some of the laptop chicklet style keyboards. And it simply allows you to not have to reach as far. Your range doesn’t have to go as far to access the keys. And that can help sometimes when you’re typing with one hand.

Certainly there are training programs for a right or a left handed typist only. You can set up the orientation of the keys differently. But, again, in my practice, I’m very conscious of the learning curve involved, so I really try to cover all the questions related to. Are you really   do you really need this? Is this the only keyboard you’re going to use? What input speed do you really need? Is this really solving the right question?

BRIAN NORTON: Sure. Absolutely. One of the biggest things that I run into when I’m evaluating folks for computer access and things like that is kind of what you hit on there. It’s that range of motion. The range of motion over across a full sized keyboard can be significantly reduced with a smaller form factor keyboard like the Adesso.

There was a really — one of my favorite keyboards was the data lux but that’s been discontinued recently. And they’ve somehow looked at replacing that with some other kinds of maybe an accounting keyboard here and there. But it’s kind of hard to find. And reducing that range of motion for folks significantly reduces their fatigue over the time. So if they’re using the computer for a period of time, not having that range of motion is going to help significantly reduce their fatigue throughout the day.

As far as a mouse access, I’ve done things with trackballs, things where you don’t have to move. It’s again addressing that range of motion and the fatigue throughout the day where you’re not moving a mouse across your desktop. You’re moving a ball and your hand is pretty much stationary the whole time. That can significantly reduce the fatigue factor, as well.

And then oftentimes because they’re a one handed typist or don’t have that range of motion, sometimes I’ll even look for keyboards and mice that are all in one device. So I’ve done things with an IntelliKeys keyboard and/or the Adessos much like what you mentioned are like laptop keyboards have a touch pad built into it that way you’re not moving from one device to the next, which again creates fatigue throughout the day.

MARK STEWART: Right. On that topic of track pads, you were referring to a bit there, Logitech has a new one that’s a larger track pad that’s multi gesture, that’s wireless, that seems to be quite reliable and capable. That’s been something that I’ve found to be an issue. Adesso makes one of the best the track pads. But sometimes you would think from a movement standpoint a track pad might work well for the person. But the reliability of it isn’t quite as strong as it is for a particular track ball or what have you. And as that reliability factor in the software improves, it leads us towards being able to use different form factors.

BRIAN NORTON: Right. And you mentioned the typing tutorials and things like that. There is a with un handed typing tutorial guide that can be downloaded from the Internet, as well, that basically reteaches the home row. So you get rid of the traditional two sided home row and it basically changes it so that you bridge the home row and kind of use the middle keys in your keyboard and reteaches you how to type and where the letters and the key strokes are to be able to just basically type one handed on a traditional QWERTY style keyboard.

MARK STEWART: And coming back and making sure with full respect to — now picturing an individual. This is our first show. And I’m picturing an individual who is an amputee sent this question in. We do certain type of work with certain funding sources. There are certain practicalities to what can be done or should be done to solve the problems for the folks that we work with.

Stepping back from that a little bit, let me say that it might not be something that I work with day in/day out. But I don’t know this particular person’s situation. But I’ll bet you that there is some type of keyboard that can hit the nail on the head with regards to the answer.

I mean, for example, there are — you were referring to all the possibilities. But I’m picturing some, just some wonderfully looking keyboards that I haven’t been able to get the funding sources to procure for my folks. And they haven’t been needed because I want things to be more normalized and it wasn’t really appropriate. But there were some keyboards where you basically put your hand in the device and you can just barely flip your fingers forwards and backwards and really you’re learning a whole new language. But as you were talking about the endurance, the motor efficiency involved is greatly improved. And who knows? That might be the situation. That might be the appropriate fix for this person. So there’s a lot of hope out there.

BRIAN NORTON: Yeah. I would say to circle back around to something that we said earlier in the show, a lot of states have Tech Act projects. And in these Tech Act projects they have these loan libraries. And in the loan libraries, they may have lots and lots of different keyboards. As we go out and provide comprehensive evaluations for folks day in/day out, we’re taking lots of equipment with us. We’re trying it out because there literally are thousands of different types of keyboards. And the person, really, we need to see them use the keyboard to be able to really specify exactly what we think works best for them. So maybe circling back to that previous answer of check out your local Tech Act project and see whether or not they have different keyboards that you might be able to borrow. Our last question for the day: Is there screen readers that cost thousands of dollars and there are screen readers that are free?

MARK STEWART: Can I slip something in there?

BRIAN NORTON: Absolutely.

MARK STEWART: Back to the previous question. I will throw out to have — again, this might not be on target at all. But have them — are they a new amputee? The learning to live with it part of it, as well. Not that I don’t want them to push for all the functional capability that they can possibly get. But there’s probably — an assessment would probably be in order. As far as I know this person is in California, but I’d love to get them in front of a talented assistive technology professional or somebody like that who can navigate the waters of the whole situation. So I guess a phrase, the reason I stopped you, the phrase is to add: If it’s the case that a regular keyboard that most people use with two hands ends up being fine for you, good. That’s okay. Keep it normal. Move on. How much do you keyboard? Are you really under pressure for time, pressure of time, excuse me. It might be a shocking situation that you’re a new amputee but don’t stir things up unnecessarily. You may be okay.

BELVA SMITH: Mark, I’m glad you came back to that question because there was a little that I wanted to say, too, about the Adesso keyboard. I’ve had to use that several times over the years. I remember thinking when I pulled the first one out of the shelf, it’s marketed as a space saving keyboard.

MARK STEWART: There you go.

BELVA SMITH: So who would know that that would become my piece of assistive technology. And if I’m Googling it, I’m not going to find the Adesso keyboard as a piece of assistive technology because it’s manufactured as a space saver. But I have, and I’m sure we all have on more than one occasion, used it as the appropriate piece of assistive technology. So I just wanted to throw that in there.

BRIAN NORTON: That’s a very valid point. A lot of the things that we use day in and day out with our clients aren’t really classified as necessarily assistive technology. They’re technology for everybody. But we find very specific uses for the individuals that we work with because it just addresses the need that they have.

Jumping forward again to that third or fourth question that we had there. This is a low vision user, low vision client or caller. And they are asking about screen readers. And they’re talking about there are screen readers that cost thousands of dollars and there are screen readers that are free. Which ones are the best? And do I really need to pay for a screen reader? Or are there free or built in ones that were just good enough for me?

BELVA SMITH: Well, to go with what Mark said, I can’t say which one is the best. And I can’t say whether you should buy one or whether a free one is good enough without knowing 100% what the situation is. What are your goals? What will you be doing?

First of all, a screen reader needs to not only give you the information that’s displayed on the device screen, but it also has to allow you to be able to interact with the program that you’re trying to work with 100%. And I think in the beginning of this session, we discussed why the cost of certain technology is so high. The same answer would be as to why is it that some screen readers cost a thousand dollars and some are free? Primarily with the free ones — and there are some very popular ones. Do you want me to name some of them?

BRIAN NORTON: Sure, that’s fine. Yeah.

BELVA SMITH: So we’ve got the number 1 free one at this time I would say is probably NVDA, which is Non Visual Desktop Application. Very, very popular. And a very good, very good screen reader. And then we have Thunder, which is not heard of quite as much. But I did double check this morning. It is still available. It’s still out there. And then there’s essay to go. All of which are very good screen readers. But if you’re a professional or a student, would any one of those be sufficient to help you meet all the goals that you need to meet? Probably not. Maybe but probably not. Primarily because of compatibility.

If you go to the third party or what I call “boxed” screen readers, such as Jaws or Window Eyes.

MARK STEWART: Belva, I was just wondering. Window Eyes is also free if you have Microsoft Office, right?

BELVA SMITH: Window Eyes is free if you have Microsoft 2010 or above. But with the free, there are some serious limitations. Number one is tech support. If you want tech support with that free version, you’re going to be paying for that. It’s not something that’s include Wednesday the software.

MARK STEWART: And that’s with all the free versions, you get limited tech support with those, right?

BELVA SMITH: You get no tech support that you don’t pay for. And I’m sorry, but I’m not aware of what the pricing is on the tech support. But every tech support call you make will cost you.

And with the free version of the Window Eyes, you do still have the advantage of the fact that GW Micro is still working to improve the software. So it’s not — they’re still working hard to make sure that it’s compatible with your third party programs.

So, again, if you are working for a company that’s using some special database or any kind of a program that isn’t necessarily a Microsoft program, if you’re not using one of the third party or boxed software, you’re probably going to have a lot of compatibility issues. And you’re certainly not going to get the type of tech support that would be needed to figure out why is it that it isn’t doing something that it should be doing?

And then, I’m sorry, Brian, I also wanted to address at this point — you got me started.


BRIAN NORTON: I did it. You get to do it, too.

BELVA SMITH: The Voiceover that comes with Apple and then the Narrator that comes with windows. Because both Apple and Microsoft have decided that they need to, you know, get involved with this screen reading act. And so in doing so, they have both included with their devices a screen reader. And they’re great, again, if you’re going to be doing just specific things. If you try to use narrowing crater outside of a Microsoft environment, it’s not going to be so well with you, same thing with voiceover. So I just wanted to say that, yes, those are both good depending upon what it is you’re going to do.

So I think I answered all those questions. But I just want to sum it up by saying if you’re in need of a screen reader, I’ve got to go back to what Mark said. You really do want to seek out your professional in the area that can sit down with you and can go over the directions and help you try them out and do your check and balances to make sure that you’re getting the appropriate one. Start out using a free one if you want and then, you know, find what it won’t do for you. And then decide which one you want to try to purchase.

MARK STEWART: And to piggyback off what you were saying, I mean, screen readers are one of those really tricky programs that based on what you’re trying to do with it, it may or may not work very well. If you’re trying to access, especially in the situations we find ourselves in, a lot of job accommodations and things like that where there’s third party databases and all those different things, there’s oftentimes some customization that’s needed. I know Jaws and Window Eyes both provide some customization features, some scripting features that can be used to make it more accessible or be able to address things that aren’t out of the box. And that’s why you end up paying for those. In fact, I think Window Eyes, they have the free version that if you have Microsoft Office 2010 and above, you can get for free, but you still have the option to pay for a full version. And with that full version, you get tech support and things like that. But it is much, much more costly.

But it is one of those things that as you said, seeking out a professional because based upon what you’re really trying to do with that software, any number of those applications may be appropriate if you’re a stay at home homemaker, you know, and you’re just doing a little bit of email and you’re just doing a little bit of word processing, maybe one of the free versions is just fine for you; but if you’re doing something a little bit more complicated, having one of the paid for versions that has some customization available and a little bit of tech support to kind of enhance your ability to get something done would be helpful.

BELVA SMITH: Yeah, and, Brian, over the years, I’ve worked with some real power users that will use multiple screen readers because Jaws will do, you know, XYZ for them; but it won’t do ABC, and they’ve discovered that, you know, NVDA will. So depending upon what task they’re setting out to do determines which screen reader they’re going to use.

Again, those are the power users. But I know personally several people that use more than one screen reader.

BRIAN NORTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you to everyone. That is episode 001. It’s set to release on March 9th, so next Monday. And, again, here’s how to find our show. You can search assistive technology questions on iTunes or look for us on Stitcher or visit

Also, please call and chime in. We’d love to hear your questions. In fact, without your questions, we really don’t have a show. So be a part of our show.

Our listener line is 317 721 7124. You can also find us at You can tweet, as well at hashtag #ATFAQ. Or you can email your questions to

WADE WINGLER: You guys just did a show.


WADE WINGLER: You rocked it.

BELVA SMITH: Yeah, but Mark and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

WADE WINGLER: So, Brian, tell them goodbye.

BRIAN NORTON: All right. See you guys. Thanks, Mark. Thanks, Belva.


BELVA SMITH: Come on, Mark, say bye. Mark doesn’t want to say bye.

MARK STEWART: That’s all I’m saying? See you later.

BRIAN NORTON: It was a pleasure. See you guys.

WADE WINGLER: Information provided on assistive technology frequently asked questions does not constitute a product endorsement. Our comments are not intended as recommendations, nor is our show evaluative in nature. Assistive Technology FAQ is hosted by Brian Norton; gets editorial support from mark steward and Belva Smith; is produced by me, Wade Wingler; and receives support from Easter Seals Crossroads and the INDATA project. ATFAQ is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more of our shows at

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