Tools and Techniques

This page lists tools for communicating by email, VoiceXML, Voice-Mate, and talking newspapers. Also listed are techniques such as mindmapping and guide dogs.

WebPals Email

Webpals are penpals who stay in touch by using email. If you are blind, partially sighted, or have a serious sight problem, you can use the Webpals Message Board of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in the United Kingdom to communicate with friends around the world.

Screen Readers

Screen readers are software programs that read the text on a computer screen. More information about screen readers such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, or Window Bridge will be added in the future. Here is a list of Microsoft Windows-based screen reader utilities.

Voice Recognition Software

Voice Recognition Software allows you to talk to your computer and your words instantly and accurately appear in the full Microsoft Office Suite and virtually all other Windows®-based applications. For example, the Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software allows you to create documents, enter data, fill in forms, send emails, work on the web, and control the desktop - all by voice. You can dictate directly into a PC, or be productive on-the-go with dictation into a certified handheld device such as a digital recorder.

Using VoiceXML for Talking Web Pages - Tiger Team 1

The VoiceGenie Technologies company based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada provides a unique telco-grade voice portal product that allows you to retrieve Web information and make online transactions from any telephone. Voice access is easier and more natural than any other customer self-service technology suce as WAP, touch-tone, or the the web. If you want to learn more about VoiceGenie and how this service can help all people, including those who are blind, communicate more effectively check out the VoiceGenie Summary.

Tiger Team 1 of the Humber College Quality course researched and summarized this VoiceGenie summary. Thanks to Jennifer (team leader), Suzanne, Myra, and Tracey for taking the extra time to help other people get started using VoiceXML.

Using the Voice-Mate Organizer

VoiceMate is a portable organizer that allows you to record appointments and telephone numbers on a digital recorder. The Voice-Mate organizer has voice recognition, an earphone for discrete use, PC Link, available in 10 languages, appointment book, reminder, calculator, and a voice prompt accompanies every keystroke. The Voice-Mate is available at Frontier Computing in Toronto.

Using the Siemens Portable Model 4210 Talking Telephone

The Siemens 2.4 Ghz portable telephone model 4210 allows you to program your telephone to announce the name of the person who is calling you. However, you must also subscribe to the Call-ID service from your local phone company. Also, the telephone only announces the names of the people that you program into the phone. This portable phone costs about $200 CAD, has a range of about 400 feet, and is designed to operate like a cell phone.

Someone who is blind could have difficulty programming the telephone. However, after the telephone is programmed with the names of the contact people being able to answer the phone from anywhere in the house and hear the name of friends who are calling would be helpful. We will continue testing this telephone and report back on our results.

Listening to the Newspapers

As of March 1, 2002, the USA-based National Federation of the Blind NEWSLINE now has a toll-free 1.888.882.1629 telephone number for North America.

The toll-free centralized call-in center provides service without delay to any subscriber. This service enables those who cannot read conventional print to have access to newspapers when traveling throughout the United States and Canada.

You can easily choose which newspaper, section, and article to read with the use of a standard touch-tone phone. Each day, with your morning coffee, you can choose that day's, the previous day's, and the previous Sunday's issue of each newspaper on the service. The menu provided allows you to change the speed and voice quality, spell out, or search for words.

Information about the Canadian talking newspapers will be added in the future.

Identifying Canadian Bank Notes (Paper Money)

The Bank of Canada has added small raised dots on the new $5 and $10 bank notes that allow you to identify the notes by touch. The tactile feature consists of a series of symbols formed by raised dots and separated by a smooth surface, in the upper right corner on the face of the notes. Each symbol is composed of two columns of raised dots. The dots are embossed and back coated to enhance their durability.

Also, there are small reader machines that identify the amount of a bank note. You just insert the bank note into the reader and the reader tells you the amount of the note in a voice message. The readers are available free from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB); however, the CNIB asks you to fill out a three-page survey form before ordering the reader. Hopefully, this form requirement will be dropped and a simple two-week turnaround order by telephone process will be initiated.

Using Mindmapping Techniques

Mindmapping is a technique of touching the floorplan layout of a building or house and developing a mental image of the building so that you can easily find your way around the building. More information about mindmapping will be added in the future.

Guide Dogs

There are many organizations that train dogs to assist people who are blind. In Oakville, Ontario, Canada the Lions Foundation of Canada has a complete DogGuides training facility. The facility is at 152 Wilson Streey (Rebecca and Kerr) in Oakville, telephone 905.842.2891.

Helpful Hint - Measuring Laundry Detergent

According to Dimitri, if you store your liquid laundry detergent in the refrigerator the cooler temperature allows you to easily measure the amount you are using with your finger because the liquid detergent is thicker when cooler than room temperature. Thanks to Dimitri in Quebec for sharing this helpful hint.

Playing Scrabble and UpWords using Braille Letters

A few companies have developed Scrabble word games using Braille letters and special game boards. Apparently, there was a well-designed game developed by the Squirrel company in the U.K. but it is no longer available. According to Dimitri, a Scrabble game developed by Milton Bradley in the USA is difficult to use because the plastic tiles (the small square plastic pieces that contain the braille letters) do not stay in place on the board. It is too easy to move the tiles when you touch them by mistake.

However, the UpWords game also made by Milton Bradley works well. UpWords has raised braille plus the actual raised letters on the tiles. The tiles fit firmly on the board allowing you to move the board without disturbing the letters. Similar to Scrabble, the UpWards game play consists of placing lettered tiles on a board for points, the added twist is that you can build on top of pre-existing words to make new ones. UpWords costs $58.40 CAD and is available from CNIB stores in Canada and Sight Connections in the USA. Thanks to Dimitri in Quebec for sharing this information.

Artificial Eye Helps Blind Man See

Nearly 20 years after becoming totally blind, Jens, a piano tuner who lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada has regained some sight (not total sight but can see shapes) thanks to a miniature camera, portable computer, and electrodes wired to his brain. The technology was developed by the Dobelle Institute, costs about $100,000 to implement, and only seems to work for people who were born with normal vision and then lost it. This artificial vision technology has been tested on eight patients ranging in age from 39 to 77 years old.

Brain Cells Talk to Microchip - hopes and dreams

Canadian Neurobiologist Naweed Syeed and other researchers at the University of Calgary have discovered a technique for communicating between snail brain cells and a microchip. This breakthrough may one day help restore sight to the visually impaired. The study will be published in the journal Physical Review Letters. This preliminary research may lead to the future development of microchips that would stimulate activity when planted in the retinas of the visually impaired. However, such advances are still hopes and dreams and further research is required.

PowerToy Taskbar Magnifier

A free, unsupported utility from Microsoft that provides a minimum level of functionality for users with slight visual impairments. For daily use, most users with visual impairments will need a magnification program such as ZoomText with higher functionality. Free download from Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP. Note that this PowerToy utility is not supported.


Magifies the text in most software programs (for example, MS Word). You can also use the mouse like a magnifing glass, magnify the cursor, use a colored cross to find the cursor, magify part of window (corner), magnify just the top of the screen, change background color, need 4 GByte computer memory. Also, speaks the text in English, French, Spanish and other languages with an easy-to-understand human voice, not a computer voice. Costs about $720 CAN for the top-of-the-line software. Available at Frontier Computing in Toronto, Canada's Premier Assistive Technology Vendor Since 1986.

Lexmark Smartscanner

Attaches to a computer and allows you to scan printed text. Then, the text is processed and spoken to you with a computer voice. Costs about $350 CAD.