by Robert Jaquiss and Gary Wunder
From the Editor: Robert Jaquiss is a member of the National Federation of the Blind Research and Development Committee. He has been a staff member of the International Braille and Technology Center and has run his own business putting materials into Braille and tactile graphics. Recently he and I have been testing ALT, and we decided to jointly write a review about this powerful program to increase the productivity of blind people who use the Microsoft Windows operating system:
A blind person functioning in a world constructed for sighted people soon learns that it is possible to do almost everything that is done with sight by using alternative techniques. Some are more efficient than the techniques used by our sighted friends and family, some are about the same, and others are slower. In employment, efficiency is the name of the game, so part of what we must do is, not only demand accessible hardware and software, but find ways to make it efficient. Sometimes this is accomplished by working with designers to ensure that we can do with a series of keystrokes what is done with a mouse or some other pointing device. Sometimes it is done by special software that bypasses the visual paradigm altogether. This article discusses one productivity tool blind people can use at home and in the workplace to perform often-repeated tasks efficiently.
ALT is a program developed in Germany by Dräger & Lienert Information Management, and distributed in English-speaking countries by U-R-Able. ALT was specifically developed for the blind by developers who are blind. Briefly described, it is productivity software that simplifies repetitive tasks, provides keyboard shortcuts for complex operations, and provides keyboard commands to emulate mouse functions. ALT works with all screen readers. For JAWS, Window-Eyes, and the Cobra screen-readers, ALT has over 200 built-in functions to direct the screen reader programmatically. It will work with any Windows-based software. Some examples of how ALT is used are shown below. ALT is activated, as you might expect, by pressing the Alt key on the PC keyboard. Since Alt by itself is already used to perform many functions, the ALT program actually requires two taps of the key, followed by the command ALT is to perform. Suppose you have trouble remembering the website for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Braille and Audio Reading Download, BARD. An ALT accelerator can be defined and given this address once, and from then on all one need do is press Alt twice and enter BARD or NLS or whatever mnemonic one wishes to assign for getting to the service. An accelerator can also be activated with additional information. For example, the accelerator for BARD could be called “bard.” The bard accelerator would be supplied with a user name and password. For example, “bard <email@example.com> booksplease”. ALT will bring up the BARD site and log the user in. The same trick will work for Bookshare. Two presses of the Alt key and the letters “bs” followed by Enter will bring up Bookshare, and this can be configured to load the login page, a search page, or any number of other options Bookshare offers to use its service. The neat part of the ALT accelerators for screen reader users is that all the “journey steps” we’re so used to hearing are silent with ALT.
I personally use Google at least ten times a day: how does Freedom Scientific spell “PAC Mate” or Humanware spell “BrailleNote,” in what issue did we last run a story about Christine Boone, or when did we give Ramona Walhof the tenBroek Award? I could enter <www.google.com> or could put Google in my favorites list; or I could use a nifty ALT command that not only takes me to Google but lets me enter my search term and even positions the reading cursor at the results of my search. A command such as “gs Jacobus tenBroek born” tells me that he was born in 1911 and died in 1968. The search is quick and easy and takes less than ten seconds to type and find the answer. Of course ALT cannot guarantee that the search criteria will lead directly to the desired item, but it can make the process of initiating that search quick and easy.
The same method used with web addresses will also work in searching for commonly used files and folders. If I want the telephone directory used at the Center, I use the word “center” and the name of the person for whom I am searching, and instantly the Braille display contains his or her name and extension.
More complex tasks can also be assigned to ALT. If one wishes to sign into his bank account and determine what the bank believes to be the account balance, ALT can be programmed to go to the bank’s website, login with the ID and password of the account holder, press the buttons or activate the links necessary to display the balance screen, and then search for the text that appears before that all-important number.
For the professional ALT can be a real time saver. For example, when composing email, I can have various text modules for inserting contact information at the end of a letter. If I type “rsj” my contact information is inserted. I could have another module to insert contact information for both my wife and me. Yet another module could be created to insert a signature for a business. ALT accelerators can be used to perform tasks for Microsoft Word. I can press ALT twice followed by “word,” and Microsoft Word will start. I have accelerators for using Microsoft Word. The accelerator “inddec” will decrease the left margin. “Indinc” will increase the left margin indent. “Wcen” will center the current line. Other accelerators can adjust JAWS, the screen reader I am using. There are accelerators to adjust the announcement of access keys and tutorial messages, and for controlling a Braille display. ALT will also work with ZoomText. Users have the choice of purchasing packages of accelerators or creating their own. A very important feature of ALT is that I don’t have to be at the Desktop. ALT will work from anywhere on a PC. They call this “beaming”, moving from any starting location to a final destination in a single step.
I have found that ALT is a powerful productivity tool. Presentations on ALT will be conducted at our upcoming national convention. For more information on ALT, contact one of the following:
For non-English users contact Dräger & Lienert Information Management, Hilfsmittel für Blinde, Stadtwaldstr. 62, D 35037 Marburg, Germany, phone: +49 6421 165555, fax: +49 6421 165556, email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, web: <http://www.dlinfo.de>.