Braille Monitor                                                         June 2007

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St. Louis to Japan: An Experience with Study Abroad

by the IBTC Accessibility Team

From the Editor: Microsoft recently introduced the Vista operating system and Office 2007. The access-technology developers have been scrambling to release programs that will make this software available to blind computer users. The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind team have been using both the GW Micro and Freedom Scientific products with Vista and Office. Here is their review, the first one to appear anywhere as far as we can tell. This is what they say:

Windows Vista Accessibility Review

The release of Microsoft Windows Vista earlier this year left many blind computer users wondering when we will be able to use this new operating system. With previous releases of Microsoft Windows operating systems, the blind had to wait a considerable time to acquire a screen-access program that was compatible with a particular operating system. Now, for the first time ever, blind computer users can choose to use a new operating system at the same time as everybody else. GW Micro, the manufacturer of Window-Eyes, was the first to release a version of a screen-access program for Windows Vista. Freedom Scientific released a beta version of JAWS for Vista shortly after the release of Window-Eyes.

We observe that the performance of Window-Eyes in Vista is very good. User Account Control, Secure Desktop, Start menu with its search features, and Windows Sidebar are completely accessible. Navigating between list views and group panes is smooth and responsive.

Window-Eyes 6.1 and JAWS beta version 8.0.2107 are both compatible with Windows Vista. Users familiar with a particular screen-access program will be able to migrate to Windows Vista without too many difficulties. Many standard hot-key combinations are the same. For instance, pressing Windows+M still minimizes all applications and brings focus to the desktop. Users can still arrow between icons on the desktop or use Alt-tab to switch between applications. Pressing Windows+E still brings up Windows Explorer. We are pleased to report that screen-access software manufacturers have done a great job in helping users gain access to this new operating system.

It is worthy of note that, although screen-access programs are now working well with Windows Vista, users should not assume that all access technology products are compatible with it. Before converting to Windows Vista, one should verify that one’s notetakers, refreshable Braille displays, and Braille embossers are also compatible with this new operating system. Currently we know that Duxbury version 10.6SR1 and Kurzweil 1000 version 11 are Windows-Vista-compatible. We recommend contacting the relevant access technology manufacturers for the latest information on Vista compatibility.

Now let's turn our attention to the computer hardware requirements for Vista. When purchasing a Windows Vista computer to be used with screen-access programs, users should ask for the following items: a nonintegrated sound card, a nonintegrated video card, at a minimum 2 GB of random access memory (RAM), and at a minimum a Pentium 4 2.5 GHz processor. Getting the suggested hardware specifications may make your computer more expensive than an off-the-shelf system, but it will prevent you from experiencing any delay when multitasking. Four versions of Windows Vista are available for one to choose among. Vista Home Basic contains Windows Defender, Windows Firewall, and Internet Explorer. Vista Home Premium includes everything in the Home Basic version plus Media Center and a scheduled backup program. Vista Business includes everything in the Home Premium version plus the complete PC backup and a restore application, Remote Desktop Connection, a Network and Sharing Center, and the Windows Fax and Scan program. The Ultimate version of Vista contains everything in the Business version plus Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption program. Not everybody will need the Vista Ultimate version. We recommend clearly identifying your needs before spending the extra money.

Windows Vista has a range of new features. One that users may perceive to be an annoyance is the User Account Control. Periodically users will be prompted to authorize access to a particular program that is running on the computer. The prompts occur often, so we recommend turning this feature off if you feel confident that your PC has enough other security measures in place. Another change in Vista is that the names of the desktop icons are not the same as in Windows XP. For example, “My Computer” in Windows XP becomes “Computer” in Windows Vista and “My Network” becomes “Network.” “Windows Sidebar” is a new term in Windows Vista used to replace “System Tray.” Users can personalize the Windows Sidebar by downloading different “gadgets” of interest such as weather, headline news, or traffic reports from Windows Live™ Gadgets gallery. Regrettably, links for different gadgets on the Windows Live™ Gallery site are not properly labeled. Downloading specific gadgets is not easy.

The shut-down and restart options are no longer in the Start menu. The quickest way to shut down or restart the computer is to press Alt+F4 while on the desktop. Then the What-do-you-want-the-computer-to-do? prompt will appear, and users can choose either to shut the computer down or to restart it.

Other noteworthy changes in Windows Vista are the following: in the Control Panel you will find fifty items. Many items under submenus in Windows XP are on the main menu of the Control Panel in Windows Vista. One example of this is the Device Manager. In Windows XP one must go to Control Panel, System, then Control, then tab to the Hardware tab to get to the Device Manager. Under Windows Vista, “Device Manager” appears after selecting Control Panel on the main screen. Many categories in the Control Panel have been renamed in Windows Vista. An example of this is “Add and Remove Programs” in Windows XP, which has been changed to “Programs and Features” in Windows Vista. The XP operating system does not support first-letter navigation. In Windows Vista first-letter navigation has been implemented so that, if you press the first letter of a program that you wish to modify or remove, it will be highlighted.

The Vista operating system can have two additional clocks set under Date and Time. A Windows Vista user can also synchronize the clock with a timeserver on the Internet.

The volume of system sounds can be set independently for each running application. This can be useful, for example, when you are playing music or streaming audio on the Internet. The volume of the audio player being used can be louder or softer than your screen-reading program’s volume.

Many accessibility-related applications are included in the Ease of Access Center, located in the accessories by default. Examples of these applications are a speech-recognition application, magnification programs, and the Narrator speech output program. These applications are not the replacements for full versions of screen-access software such as JAWS or Window-Eyes, and Windows Magnification program is not a substitute for ZoomText or MAGic screen-enlargement software.

For further details contact us at <nfb@nfb.org>, reference: Vista inquiry, or use the technology answer line at (410) 659-9314, option 5. Keep an eye out for Vista-related technology tips on <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Access_technology_tips.asp>.

Office 2007

In this article we discuss Office 2007, and in particular Word and its new interface known as the ribbon tool bar. Although this article discusses Office 2007 in Windows Vista, it may be run on Windows XP systems, and the items discussed here affect the user on both operating systems. We ran Office 2007 with Window-Eyes version 6.1 and JAWS version 8.0.2107 beta under Windows Vista and were able to navigate the Ribbon tool bar and its options with both screen-access programs. Because JAWS is beta software, we will not compare it to Window-Eyes in this article.

Office 2007 uses a new menu system called the Ribbon tool bar, which consists of a series of tab controls that you navigate around using Tab, Shift+Tab, and the left and right arrows. The tool bar has the feel of pages in a dialog. By pressing the left and right arrow keys, you move from one tab to another. We noticed seven tabs when opening a Word document. There are hot keys for these tabs. For example, pressing Alt+H brings up the Home tab, and Alt+W brings up the View menu.

Although there is no tab called File, pressing Alt+F takes you to the familiar options such as New, Open, Save, Save As, and more. For example, pressing Alt+F followed by the letter A opens the Save As dialog box. To move through the options on a given tab, press Tab and Shift+Tab. Doing this will result in the usual controls including checkboxes, combo boxes, and other buttons. Groups of items appear as you tab through the options. The Save items are grouped together, while another group has the Copy, Cut, and Paste items found on the Edit menu in previous versions.

Some familiar hot keys still bring you directly to their items. Control+O and Control+N, for example, still open a document dialog and a new document and may be pressed while writing in a document. Control+C, Control+V, Control+X and Control+P all perform their usual functions: Copy, Paste, Cut, and Print. Pressing F7 still opens the Spelling and Grammar dialog. Writing and editing work much as they do in Windows XP. You can select and deselect text; Delete, Copy, and Paste; and perform other editing functions as usual.
The above examples provide an overview of this new system. It is different because the old familiar menus are no longer available; there is no option to return to the classic menu view in Office 2007. The good news, however, is that both Window-Eyes and JAWS work well with this new Ribbon tool bar, and the available hot keys make operation from the keyboard much the same as it was in earlier versions of Word.

It will take some practice to find all the options and features presented on the Ribbon tool bar. Callers on the Kim Komando Show, a nationally syndicated computer talk show, say that the Ribbon bar is quite different and confusing to some. It appears that we are about equally challenged with our sighted peers in learning the new menu system.

We encourage you to try using the new versions of Office 2007. Although this discussion describes Office Word 2007 only, the Ribbon tool bar shows up in other Office 2007 applications. You will probably encounter this Ribbon menu sooner or later. When you do, just be persistent, and you will soon be up and running.

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