for all Internet service gives Freedom to people with disabilities
Oalkand Press -
April, 27th, 2006
CHRISTY BREITHAPT Special to The Oakland Press
The Internet has become, for most of us, an undeniable force.
We pay bills, connect with friends, find information and do
our shopping online. It can make life easier and makes connecting
with the world less time-consuming. Many of us would be lost
But the Internet isn't easy to master for everyone. Those who
are blind, physically challenged or senior citizens can find
the Internet a difficult and frustrating place.
Some organizations, such as eBlind!, are trying to change that.
eBlind! is a nonprofi t group that offers programs for blind
and physically challenged people to help them navigate the Web,
and even their own desktops.
If I do my job right and impart these skills to a person, they
just light up like a lightbulb and smile and laugh, says John
Whitacre, director of services for eBlind! It's just a very
eBlind!, in its current incarnation, has been around since January
thanks to the generosity of groups such as the Lions Club District
11-A2, the Optometric Institute and Clinic of Metropolitan Detroit
and the Oakland County Library Board. The Lions Club is responsible
for the financial support of the program and the Optometric
Institute provides teaching space in Detroit, while the Oakland
County Library has donated space in Pontiac.
Easy and inexpensive
A handful of programs is available for blind people
to access the Internet, but they are typically expensive and
time consuming. eBlind! has found the most luck with a service
called Freedom Box, which costs subscribers around $10 a month.
The Freedom Box was created in 2002 by Michael Calvo, who was
born blind. The service does many things, and sounds more complicated
to explain than it is to learn.
Freedom Box uses software called a screen reader, which reads
aloud whatever is on the screen. Also, the homepage for the
service breaks the Internet down into simpler, more clarifi
For Amy DeKeyser, 22, the program has been a blessing. DeKeyser,
who has cerebral palsy and is legally blind, had no problem
catching on to the program.
It was really easy, says DeKeyser of Waterford Township. It
can type for you.
Users can send e-mail with a few keystrokes. A blind or physically
challenged person can use a headset microphone to record a voice
message e-mail, and converts replied text into voice messages.
The program also makes it easier to access news, weather and
entertainment. In fact, subscribers can choose from hundreds
of voice-only movies to download.
What's truly novel about it is its price point, Whitacre says.
Most software, the commercial screen-reading software, sells
for between $600 and $1,200, and then there's maintenance fees.
The program, though created for the blind, also makes things
much simpler for those who are physically challenged or partially
blind. The screen is magnified for those who have difficulty
seeing, and the minimal use of the keyboard works well for anyone
who has diffi culty using their hands.
You need minimal keyboard skills, Whitacre says. You need
some minimal skills, but you actually don't need to be able
to type. If you can just hunt and peck, you can do that much.
There are some features you can use if you can't hunt and peck
Help for seniors
Its simplicity also works well for seniors who've never
used a computer.
It's a wonderful starting point for a senior or someone who's
a little shy of computers because they're overwhelmed by the
technology, Whitacre says. I wish more seniors would be aware
of this and use it more. I think it's a wonderful starting point
Other programs for the blind, such as JAWS or Window-Eyes, can
take anywhere from 40 to 120 hours of practice to gain a working
knowledge. Learning Freedom Box can take as little as eight
It's kind of like getting into a swimming pool at the low end,
and you can wade in. You're not taken to the deep end and thrown
off, Whitacre says. You can develop your skills and go as
deep as you want. It's capable of about 80 percent of the more
expensive programs in terms of capabilities.
Whitacre's son, Michael, is an instructor with eBlind! He's
seen people of all skill levels come through the organization's
doors. Some are anxious, but most are excited about learning
a new skill.
Some people are scared or nervous, he says. Usually the people
who are recently losing their sight, who had sight previously,
those are the ones you encounter like that. Just like when you
lose a family member, you go through several stages when you
lose your sight. The people who've gone thorough those stages,
usually they're very, very excited. As they dive in more and
the more they can do the more excited they get and the more
they try other things. It's very exciting to see.
And, the excitement is catching. DeKeyser has found a whole
new world thanks to Freedom Box and her instructors at eBlind!
You feel like the Internet caters more to you, she says. It
can open up your world.
more information about Serotek Corporation or their products
and services, please contact:
Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software
and manufactures accessibility solutions under the brand name
FreedomBox. Originally launched in 2001, the FreedomBox family
of products and services make the worldwide Web and important
application software systems available to virtually anyone,
allowing command and control with the voice, keyboard, mouse,
touch screens and other access mechanisms. FreedomBox solutions
level the playing field providing people with disabilities powerful,
affordable solutions that require minimal training.