Williamsport Area Computer Club

Newsletter / Meeting Minutes

May 1999

Our next meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 8, 1999, at 7 PM, in Room B-309 of the Lycoming College Academic Center. We will be having a "Beginner's Night" where any and all computer-related questions will be welcomed after the business meeting. All meetings are free and open to the public.

Our last meeting was called to order at 7:12 PM on May 11, 1999 by President John Yarosz. The minutes of April's meeting were approved. Dan reported that the club has a balance of $581.

Committee Reports:

Advertising / Awareness / Public Relations / Home Page:

Computer Recycling (finding charitable uses for old computers):

Computer Show:

Computer News and Miscellaneous Discussions:


The night's program was presented by Lou Kolb, discussing computer access for the blind.

The first attempt to provide access to 'printed' material was the Braille system, using a matrix of six raised dots to represent alphanumeric characters. The disadvantage is that it takes up a lot of room -- an encyclopedia could take up a whole wall. It was also inconvenient to use for taking notes or other real-time transcription tasks, even with Braille 'typewriters'.

Luckily, the electronic age has produced the Braille-N-Speak electronic notetaker. It has six keys plus a spacebar, allowing the user to record any character by depressing the keys corresponding to the dots of its Braille representation. It is also possible to use un-used dot combinations as a sort of shorthand for commonly-used letter combinations. The Braille-N-Speak has 640k of memory in common models, with flash RAM cards in newer models. Output is via a speech synthesizer which can be speeded up to any speed the user can learn to listen to. It also has a disk drive port and serial port.

The next innovation is PC programs which can read the on-screen text to the user. Some of them require external speech synthesizers, but software-only solutions are appearing. DOS programs are still very popular with blind users because they lend themselves to screen-reading much more easily than Windows programs. Windows support is being improved, however, and now even web browsers can support screen readers. Microsoft has developed a standardized programming model for Windows which would enable screen-readers to work with any compliant application.

Special consideration must still be taken when designing programs, however. For instance, screen-readers need a "shut-up" key to allow the user to skip tedious, non-English data such as message headers. Web design is an area that particularly needs attention. Many people design sites with images for buttons and no plain text. It is still possible to design a graphical web site that is accessible with non-graphical browsers by using the ALT tag to attach normally-invisible descriptions to images! Also, the text-mode web browser known as Lynx will number any links it encounters in a page for quick, one-key access rather than requiring the user to scroll around the screen to select them.

Finally, of course, speech synthesis can be used in conjunction with page scanners and optical character recognition programs to allow the reading of printed material without translation into Braille.

Future Programs
June 8 Beginner's Night -- All Questions Welcome
July 13 Summer Break -- Dinner at Benjies, no formal meeting
August 10 Net Banking at Sovereign Bank, 33 West Third Street

Contact Information
Home Page http://www.sunlink.net/wacc
Chat Room http://www.talkcity.com/chat.cgi?room=Williamsport, Tuesday and Sunday evenings
Secretary Jim Shaffer, Jr., jshaffer@csrlink.net
Mailing List Send a message to wacc-chat-request@sunlink.net with the word subscribe in the subject

[Return To Home Page]