Tag Archives: assistive technology

E-book readers versus print: Part 2

Part 1 addressed the writer’s opinions and convictions about e-book readers from an individual and societal standpoint. Part 2 addresses assistive technology, academic studies, consumer ratings, and space-saving capabilities. Test drives using an iPad and Kobo for digital reading are covered, too.

Printing3 Walk of Ideas Berlin

Modern Book Printing, Berliner Walk of Ideas. The sculpture commemorates Johannes Gutenberg. Source: Lienhard Schulz via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, we bought a laptop and, since then, I slithered down the slippery slope even further. Read a couple of PDF books…gasp! This solved the static iMac problem and was much more enjoyable because of mobility. A crook in my neck, though, because of a lower screen. To make it more ergonomic, I’d need a taller laptop rack and more reading breaks. All in all, a more pleasant experience than reading PDF books from my iMac.

Despite my convictions and complaints, I was curious about the e-reading experience, so borrowed a kobo from our library. Evidently, they can be a useful form of assistive technology. Seven hundred page textbooks are as light as a the device you are using. I can’t brush this off; it’s a major plus. I have neck and shoulder problems and am supposed to always use a book rack because of it. Heavy books are a nightmare. Are e-readers the answer?

This business about textbooks led me to some interesting facts and figures about using them for academic study.  Alex Thayer, conducted a study of Kindle DX e-readers at the University of Washington in 2011. A doctoral student in Human Centered Design and Engineering, he was first author for a joint study carried out by seven universities. “There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing,” Thayer said. Study results showed that e-readers aren’t effective for academic reading. The main problem is a type of  spatial awareness called cognitive mapping. When a student uses a printed book, they rely on visual and spatial cues to remember their place, flipping back and forth between pages. With e-readers, students couldn’t remember where they found information. One scrolls, but can’t keep place, especially if there are no page numbers. Though e-readers allow for annotation, 75% of the students took paper notes. There is much more to it than this, but Thayer determined that electronic tablets were effective for study, since they had more features found on computers. Cues aren’t missed, notes can be written and searches made. He said e-book readers are fine if you’re reading something light.

Despite the results of the study, e-textbooks are big business. They are expected to total 25% of textbook sales for the higher education market by 2015, according to a  study by Xplana. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It’s true that technology could have made huge strides since the U of W study was done, but is e-reader design truly that much more advanced? In 2011, Thayer said, “It remains to be seen how to design one.” My jaded mind says people want to make a buck, even if it sabotages students.

Editions of Frankenstein

Editions of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” displayed at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, as part of Giorgio Sadotti’s artwork THIS THIS MONSTER THIS THINGS. By Andy Mabbett via Wikimedia.

One of the biggest changes in e-reader technology is called E Ink (electrophoretic or electronic ink) and E Paper (electronic paper display technology), developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. “The E Paper display is made with E Ink, which is basically black and white particles inside small microcapsules,” states E Ink on its YouTube site. What is the benefit of using E Ink? According to the company website, “Products made with E Ink electronic paper displays possess attributes that enable new advancements in the mobile electronics market: A paper-like high contrast and appearance, Ultra-low power consumption, and A thin, feather-light form.” Associated Press reporter Whitson Gordon, on the NBC site, explained it this way… “Because tablet screens are backlit and emit blue light, they cause greater eye fatigue than e-ink, which isn’t backlit and is designed to look like a piece of paper rather than a screen.” However, despite what is said, “research says ‘no’— e-ink isn’t inherently better for your eyes” and that experts aren’t all on the same page about E Ink.

But what do consumers say and what do they like? Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight received Consumer Reports‘ highest rating, at 83/100. That rating is based on the following criteria: “readability, versatility, responsiveness, page turn, navigation, file support, claimed battery life, viewable display size and touch screen.”

Jan van Eyck 059

“Madonna des Kanonikus Georg van der Paele,” Jan van Eyck. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The library’s kobo holds 75 books, all classics. After charging it on my computer, it was learn and practice time. The settings indicated the lighting couldn’t be altered, though, many newer e-readers have adjustable settings. Too bad. I wanted to read from it in bed and the screen was too dark. In the morning, it was loads of fun scrolling through Edward Lear’s limericks, but I did miss the illustrations. I’ll check out a Sony e-reader to give it a test run later….

My first impressions? The kobo was novel, but printed books are preferable. Still, for convenience, an e-reader is a good option. Only light reading, perhaps. An e-book reader would lighten luggage on a trip, a big plus. I’d like to try one with an adjustable light for night reading. The screen was annoying because it was still a screen, a mini-monitor and I spend too much time in front of a screen already.

The older librarians at my library seemed a little frosty about e-readers, which is understandable. Still, I am impressed with the number of holdings on BC’s Library 2 Go system and have noted that there are many such systems in North America. If it boosts reading and literacy, I’m for it. If it introduces new readers to the wonders of the written word, even better. There’s evidence that suggests e-readers could be perfect in rural settings if people have access to them. Click here and here to read about areas where they’re in use.

Personally, I’m probably considered a hard sell. I love Book Arts, have made hand sewn books, bought marbled paper, used bone folders, and won awards for it. I want to stay in that vein. There are other issues, too. Right now I’m reading Richard Mabey‘s The Nature Cure. I couldn’t find it locally, so I’m reading a copy originally used in the Dorset County Library in the UK. It’s a book about nature, environmental issues and how Mabey climbed out of a deep clinical depression by connecting with nature. It’s an astounding book and his writing style is poetic. It’s much more than a good read. Yet, the idea of reading this volume on an e-reader would be an impossible choice to me. It is the opposite of what the book is about and everything Mabey cares about…algae on chalk outcrops, kites wheeling in the sky, the waters of East Anglia.

My grandfather liked gadgets and loved trying out every new thing. He would have been amazed at what is available these days and I can’t help but think that he would have tried all of these forms of communication as soon as they hit the market. I don’t know why I am different but I am. Are there specially designed readers for purists? Yes. They’re called books.

Pariser Büchermarkt (Bouquinistes), Fritz Westendorp, 1911, oil on canvas. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Pariser Büchermarkt (Bouquinistes), Fritz Westendorp, 1911, oil on canvas. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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New assistive technology for JSCW: iMac Option

Assistive technology is amazing. It is a terrific aid to anyone, whether they are disabled or not. Students who put in long hours over texts are often slumped over a table, or are propping a book open, or glued to a computer. After I graduated from my last college program, I was bent out of shape from the grueling schedule and repetitive stress caused by the unergonomic use of books and computers. Had I known about a monitor arm, I would have felt so much better! I have two book racks, but they sit on a table and you still have to look down to read. I have an acquired disability that was caused by a workplace accident. It affects my neck, shoulder, arm and hand. Because of it, I’ve had to learn to do things differently than I did before. Thanks to assistive technology, my new computer set-up will be completely ergonomic. I blog my little heart away in comfort! Yesterday, I covered a laptop option and today, I’ll look at the other recommendations made by my occupational therapist, Trevor. Soon, I’ll have to decide which option will be best for my space, aided by Assistive Technology British Columbia.

iMac Option: Trevor has recommended a table top and base, a monitor arm, a slant board, a chair, and voice recognition software. Let’s take a look at what he suggests. The table is made by ISE. According to Trevor’s report, “it is equipped with electronic height adjustments. The height ranges from 27-41″ (from the floor).” The base is an ISE Base E5-1 Lite; the top is an ST-RES-2-2436. There appear to be many top/base combinations; the one he’s chosen for me is shown in the photo above. (The ISE site lists suppliers.) Here, Chairlines carries top and base for $875 plus $100 for installation. Next, is the monitor arm, a Human Scale M8 (shown above), which holds a monitor that weighs up to 42 lbs. Chairlines sells it for $309, plus $30-60 for installation. According to the U.S. comparison shopping site, NexTag, the lowest price that can be found in the U.S. is through ergoLCD, where it can be purchased for $265.99. I like the looks of this monitor arm and imagine the movement to be very smooth. The next item on my list is a slant board for reading. Ergo Desk slant boards go for $175-205 at Chairlines. In the U.S., they sell for $155-184 through amazon.com. This particular slant board is a beautifully designed wooden tool from which you can write or read. It folds for portability and can be placed at angles from 15 to 22 degrees. The Chairlines site states that a “slanted writing surface reduces neck, upper back and shoulder tension by creating an upright, balanced posture.” I can’t tell you what a difference one of these little puppies would make with my ‘feel good’ quotient. From desks,  we move to chairs. Trevor has recommended no particular chair because it depends too much on the person. Instead, told me to look for the following: “height adjustment, backrest height and angle adjustments. The back rest should possess a lumbar (low back) pad, height adjustable armrests, and headrest to allow for neck support.” He wants me to make an appointment with an office supply company to test a chair before buying. This chair business may prove to be a bit of abugaboo. Our home is decorated with antiques and a moderistic office chair is going to look terrible. Plus, my cat would zero in on it and scratch up the upholstery. Hmm. I wonder if there are any reproduction wooden banker’s chairs that are  ergonomic? The thing I can’t live without, easily, at least, is voice recognition software, which is also included in Trevor’s report. I now use IBM’s ViaVoice. Most voice to text digital recorders use Dragon. If that is the standard, it will dictate what I use to dictate. Trevor suggests I get Dragon  for Mac for $200 from Apple. He had mentioned MacSpeech, too. I’ll do some more consumer research before I make a decision. There should be many deals on voice to text recorders about now because students use them. Many decisions. By next month, things will seem different compared to now, what with all the changes. So, an iMac or a laptop? Both set-ups are comprehensive, ergonomically. The iMac monitor would be large enough to have two pages open at once. The laptop is smaller, but takes up less space and is also portable. Comfort will be the key. As a daily blogger, it makes all the difference. But either option will be an improvement over how I am working now. If I’m comfortable at my station, I’m sure to be a better writer to boot!

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New assistive technology for JSCW: Laptop Option

My options are all lined up for my new computer. Last month, an occupational therapist came to my house, studied the layout, my current set-up, and my needs, and came up with an iMac and a Mac laptop option. Today, I’m discussing the laptop option. An outfit that works will assistive technology will be helping me make the rest of my decisions. Since I have an acquired disability, this is all new terrain for me. It would be one thing to have grown up with a disability and changed my lifestyle to meet my needs as I grew. An acquired disability means you have to leave the ‘old you’ behind, accept the change and become knowledgeable about the ‘new you.’ It is a process that involves grief, moving on and adaptation. The good news is that assistive technology is advancing at a rapid pace and there are many cool ways to aid people with disabilities. My current computer set-up consists of an HP monitor with an Apple stack. More workspace needs to be freed up to make my sitting/standing work surface practical and ergonomic. In addition, my computer is old and I need a new one. I’ve worked with Macs since the early 80s and they still are the industry standard for the journalism field, graphic design, and printing industry, of which I was part and where I learned the skills I use today. I’m comfortable with Macs and like them.

Laptop Option: A monitor arm would be used to hold a Mac laptop. It is an adjustable arm that can be clamped on a stable surface and, in my situation, it would be attached to the bar top between my kitchen and living room. The arm will “provide increased height adjustability (for a laptop) and improve the work space to placement of a keyboard/mouse,” according to the report prepared by Trevor, my occupational therapist.  The recommended arm, made by 3M, is called the 3M Easy-Adjust Notebook Arm and the model number is LX700MB. It will hold a laptop computer that weighs up to 12 lbs and is over 13″ wide. Trevor did caution me to be extra careful about making sure the laptop I choose does fit. If I were to choose a laptop, I would be looking at either a 13″ MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. The monitor arm can be found at amazon.com through Triplenet Pricing. It  sells for 40% off, at $197.63, a price well under what is shown elsewhere. The 3M Canada site gives a link for Canadian sellers. In the Vancouver area, this notebook arm can be found through Chairlines for $250, which is still a good deal. Next in line are the computer peripherals. Trevor said a trackpad would be better for me because “it performs the same functions as the Macintosh based mouse, yet the trackpad results in less upper extremity movement.” He said, “In addition, it sits at the same height and angle as the keyboard, allowing for seamless transitions and ease of use on either side of the keyboard.” Trevor recommended Apple’s Magic Trackpad, which sells for $69 through Apple and a wireless keyboard, which sells for the same price. Having a laptop has obvious advantages. On my recent trip to Montana, I used my in-laws iMac, which is in the living room at the cabin. Often that area was busy, so I had to really concentrate while I was writing. With a laptop, I could have been in the apartment and worked in utter quiet. Tomorrow: iMac Option.

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Something’s cooking at Jane Street Clayworks!

I am so happy to follow up on proposed changes to Jane Street Clayworks. Intentions are the same and action is about to begin. Today, I meet with my job coach and a self-employment coach prior to being matched with a business consultant who is going to help me launch my hosted site. As reported earlier, WordPress is going to take care of the guided transfer from .com to .org and I already own my domain name. Host Gator has been recommended to me and WP will transfer my entire blog, as is, to my new site. I’ve already paid for this service and am now moving forward again. In addition, because I will work from my home, I’m having an ergonomics assessment done on my home interior to help me decide how to best work from home. Finally, I am getting a new computer. I work on Macs solely, have since the tiny Mac classics first came out in the ’80s. So, I’ll stick with what I know and will probably get an iMac. In addition, I use assistive technology because of a permanent disability stemming from a serious workplace accident in the late 90s. That means I actually type very little. Instead, I use voice recognition software…I speak into a headset and what I say is transcribed to a text document. Soon, I will get a voice to print digital voice recorder to help transcribe interviews. I have Elma to thank, my vivacious, creative, job coach. She believes in me and I couldn’t have come this far without her. Thank you, Elma! In the near future, I’ll have a new website and will begin a new page in my life, personally and creatively. Despite my recent medical setback, this site had nearly 3,500 views in May, not counting syndicated views, and that number continues to grow. Sure, I know there are sites that draw 15,000 hits in a day, easy. But, to me, this is The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” will become “I thought I could, I thought I could.”

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