Archived Post

Accessible Apple: April Newsletter

===Accessible Apple===

By: Alex Jurgensen

Hello, and welcome to a new edition of the Accessible Apple newsletter. For those of us in the blind community, I have to sadly report that our cry for equal access to the new Mac OS and Newton has gone unanswered for yet another month. What's up with that, Apple?

Well, I guess that wasn't a surprise. I mean, it was them after all that changed APIs so much that the Alva Access Group decided not to update Outspoken (1). I'm really beginning to lose hope that someone will write a screen reader for the new Mac OS. At this point, the only way I could see the Mac becoming accessible again would be if Apple were to write their own screen reader in-house, but we all know that'll never happen!!!

In other news, there have been a number of exciting developments in the Assistive Tech world since I wrote last month's newsletter. It appears that most of the industry isn't waiting for Apple to catch up accessibility-wise and is plugging along just fine.

Of course, we at Apple World hope that someone can convince Apple that we really do want access to the new Mac OS, but oh well, I guess. Only the future will tell if they make anything out of the many letters they have been receiving from blind/vi users unhappy with the current state. Apple, MacOS 9 (2) is probably going to die any month now. It's IMPORTANT that it not take access to the Mac with it!!!

But, I digress. Exciting news ... coming right up!

===In This Issue===

1. BrailleNote and VoiceNote Review

2. Cisco Considers Offering Apple II Classes for Low Vision/Blind Users ... Maybe?

3. Apple Accessibility Updates

4. Freedom Scientific to Release JAWS 4.0 in August

5. Changes to the Newsletter

6. Links

===BrailleNote and VoiceNote Review===

According to Jim Halliday, who recently rejoined Humanware as CEO (3), "We coined the term "humanware" to describe technology that is "so sophisticated that it seems simple." The BrailleNote and VoiceNote family of products are just that, simple and easy to use.

The BrailleNote/VoiceNote units belong to a class of devices known as notetakers. They are small and light mobile devices designed to aid blind and low vision consumers in performing daily computing tasks. Similar to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) for the sighted, notetakers are capable of performing many computing functions, including: keeping track of calendar appointments, viewing/editing documents, storing contact information and many more besides.

The BrailleNote and VoiceNote are fairly similar products. The BrailleNote ships with an 18 or 32 cell refreshable Braille display, while the VoiceNote lacks a Braille display. Other than that, I cannot determine any other functional differences between the models. In this review,I will take at look at a BrailleNote BT18 2nd generation.

Our unit arrived last week. After cutting open the box, I found a power cord, a carrying case, a shoulder strap, installation media, documentation, and of course the BrailleNote itself. All components were wrapped in bubblewrap to avoid damage while shipping.


Once I had all the components out of the box, I placed the BrailleNote into the leather carrying case. The unit slides into the back of the case, which then folds down and is secured by two buttons, one on either side. They remind me to the kind of buttons found on button-up jackets. The fit is snug and will hold the unit securely.

To attach the carrying strap, press down on the clip at either end of the strap and loop it around the semi-circular rings located on the front of the case. Repeat with the other end of the strap and tighten/loosen it to a comfortable length. I suggest wearing it across your body, with the strap over one shoulder and the BrailleNote hanging on your opposite side.

After securing the BrailleNote into its case, insert the round end of the power cord into the cut-out on the back, left-hand side of the case. Then, plug the other end into the wall and let charge for 24 hours before use.


The BrailleNote BT18 comes with an 18 character refreshable Braille display. As I mentioned above, it is also available in a 32 cell display or 0 cell display configuration, with the latter being known simply as the VoiceNote. All models are available with either a Qwerty keyboard(QT) or 8-dot Braille keyboard (BT). Aside from the display and keyboard, it features the following hardware (4):

1X Serial port
1X Parallel port
1X AC adapter port
1X 3.5 mm/1/8 inch headphone jack (Mono audio)
1X 56K modem
1X Infrared port
1X CompactFlash card slot (2nd generation only)
1X PC card slot
4X Thumb-keys
1X 18 cell refreshable Braille display
1X 8-dot Braille keyboard

Our review unit has 4 Thumb-keys along the front for panning the Braille display. A single button above each Braille cell provides fine-grain control over cursor positioning.


Our unit shipped with Keysoft ce version 3.0.7. build, 2175 preinstalled. The underlying operating system is Windows ce version 2.12.

The first time you power up the unit, it asks you a series of region, language and time questions. Follow the prompts, using Computer Braille (BT) or the Qwerty keyboard (QT) to enter your responses and then press dot 8 (BT) or "Enter" (QT) to save them.

Once your unit is configured, you will be taken to the "Main Menu". This is a list of programs installed on your BrailleNote. The list of programs found in the current version of Keysoft is:

1. Word Processor: A word processor that can understand several file formats including: Braille (*.brf), plain text (*.txt), Keyword (*.KWB) and others.

2. Planner: A daybook/calendar program.

3. Address List: An address book.

4. Email: An Email client.

5. Book Reader: A program for reading books.

6. Scientific Calculator: A calculator program that supports advanced functionality.

7. File Manager: This program allows you to delete, move, rename and otherwise organize files.

8. Utilities: A submenu containing advanced functions of the Keysoft software.

9. Terminal for Screen Reader: This program allows your BrailleNote to act as a Braille display with your PC.

10. Remote Synthesizer: This program allows the BrailleNote/VoiceNote to be used as a hardware synthesizer for your PC.
11. Keyboard Learn: A keyboard tutorial that can help you learn what shortcuts are available in Keysoft.

12. Information: This program lists information about your BrailleNote, including serial number and software versions.

For help using the BrailleNote/VoiceNote, please consult the documentation that came with your unit or contact your distributer/local blindness organization and ask to be put in touch with a trainer in your area.


With solid hardware specs and a comprehensive suite of preinstalled software, the BrailleNote/VoiceNote family of Humanware products is the cutting edge of assistive technology, ideal for blind and low vision students, professionals and stay-at-home parents.

To find out more, please visit the Humanware's BrailleNote/VoiceNote pages (5).

Apple World Today rating (out of 5 stars): *

===Cisco Considers Offering Apple II Classes for Low Vision/Blind Users ... Maybe?===

Cisco announced on IRC earlier today that they would begin offering a course on Dos, appropriately named Dos 101 (6), through their CiscoVision program next term. Inspired by this announcement, I reached out to ask them if they have any plans to offer a similar course for the Apple II.

The representative who responded told me that they feel that the green screens of the Apple II pose challenges to those with low vision. However, they reassured me that they will consider my request.

I am hopeful that Cisco can find a creative solution to this problem, as I feel that the Apple II's unique position in the education and desktop publishing markets make it a tool everyone should be able to learn.

I have included the IRC transcript of my conversation with Cisco's representative below:


*** Looking up your hostname...
*** Found your hostname, cached
*** Checking Ident
*** Got Ident response
*** Welcome to Twitter - foo
*** Your host is, running version 2.8/hybrid-5.3
[remaining server messages truncated]

/NICK asquared_Editor
*** foo is now known as asquared_editor

/JOIN #timeline
*** asquared_editor ( has joined channel #timeline
*** Topic for #timeline: When people come to Twitter and they want to express something in the world, the technology fades away. It's them writing a simple message and them knowing that people are going to see it.)
*** Topic for #twitter set by jack on Tue Mar 21 12:50:00 2006
*** Users on #timeline: asquared_editor ciscovision ...

00:01:00 <ciscovision> CAVI isexcited to announce a new, bleeding edge course entitled DOS 101, running next term!More information at

02:01:00 <asquared_editor> ciscovision Can you run one on the Apple II?

02:02:00 <ciscovision> ASquared_Editor Those green screens just aren't suitable for low vision users although we will consider your request.

*** Signoff: asquared_editor


===Apple Accessibility Update===


===Freedom Scientific to Release JAWS 4.0 in August===

Since the PC is where modern desktop accessibility is clearly at, we are excited to announce that Freedom Scientific is getting ready to release JAWS 4.0 this August. This version will bring many new improvements to what is already a solid product and we look forward to reviewing it when we receive our copy in the mail.

To find out more, please see the JAWS 4.0 information link (7) in the "Links" section below.

===Changes to the Newsletter===

If you've read down this far ... congratulations! You've put up with our joke for far too long. Happy April fools!!!

This entire article, with the exception of the Cisco announcement was written with the events of early-mid 2002 in mind. The Cisco announcement dates back even further, to sometime during the early days of Dos' accessibility. The topic in the Twitter channel in the IRC transcript was based on a quote by Jack Dorsey, Twitter's former CEO. Finally, the date shown as the date the topic was set was the date Jack joined Twitter.

Apple, as we know now, really did take user feedback to heart and created VoiceOver, a screen reader it built into Mac OS X and later iOS and Apple Watch. This push for fostering greater independence among its users has helped Apple secure a spot as an industry leader in the accessibility market.

To find out more, visit Apple's accessibility pages (8) or tune in every Monday for our very own Accessible Apple column (9). Another good resource for Apple accessibility history is my 2009 article (10), which describes the history of VoiceOver up until Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and iPhone OS (Now iOS) 3.0.

Thanks for reading!!!


1. Outspoken for Mac info:

2. Mac OS 9 info:

3. Halliday returns as Humanware's CEO under Pulse Data International Ownership:

4. BrailleNote tech specs:

5. More BrailleNote/VoiceNote info:

6. Dos 101 by CiscoVision:

7. JAWS 4.0 info:

8. Apple's accessibility pages:

9. Apple World Today coverage of Apple's Accessibility:

10. Apple Accessibility history up to mid-2009:

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Steve is the founder and former publisher of Apple World Today and has authored a number of books about Apple products. He's an avid photographer, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, and a really bad guitarist. Steve and his wife Barb love to travel everywhere!