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Wearable computer for the blind unveiled

Freedom Scientific, a company that makes technology-based products for the visually impaired, has announced a compact version of...

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Freedom Scientific, a company that makes technology-based products for the visually impaired, has announced a compact version of its Job Access with Speech (JAWS) screen reader technology. The PAC Mate mobile device will give the blind access to Microsoft Outlook and all Pocket PC applications.

The unit also comes with a carrying case that will allow a user to wear the device while accessing applications. There are two versions, one using a QWERTY keyboard and the other a standard Braille keyboard. In either form, the front cover opens to allow access to the keyboard while a user is wearing it.

The JAWS screen reader technology goes beyond simple text-to-speech.

"You don't want the system to just read a screen from top to bottom or left to right," said Freedom Scientific vice-president of product management software Eric Damery.

JAWS gives screen location information in speech to alert the user that the Start menu is opened and which item is highlighted. In the PocketExcel application, the device will also give user cell navigation details including row and column location as well as reading the formula or comments within a cell.

The value-add for the PAC Mate is in its partnership with Microsoft, said Damery. "For the first time blind users will have access to a PDA with all of the Pocket PC features."

The does not include built-in wireless, but has a PC card slot and will allow users to engage any Web site wirelessly, giving users text to speech and navigation information.

Units will ship by the end of the year and will be priced at approximately $2,595 (£1,677).

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