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Assistive Products Gear Up Fast For Windows Vista.

Assistive technology manufacturers have responded more quickly to create versions of their products compatible with Microsoft’s latest operating system Vista than with previous releases of Windows, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

Some assistive technology companies were ready with public beta versions of their products by the time that Microsoft released Vista to the retail market at the end of January.

“The assistive technology vendors have responded very quickly in bringing out updates to their software,” RNIB regional technical officer Andy White told E-Access Bulletin. “Microsoft has designed Vista with assistive technology software in mind.” Previously companies had to work harder to make their software work with Microsoft operating systems. “Every time a new one came out, they had to chase their tails to keep up,” White said.

However Eric Damery, Vice President of Product Management Software at Freedom Scientific, developer of popular JAWS screen reader, told E-Access Bulletin the development process has not been simple. “We have to develop, test and support customers in so many different configurations, the challenges tend to be very high,” said Damery. “Vista comes along and changes the technique we have used for capturing the screen data,” said Damery. “We are forced to implement and test a new solution, without breaking the old.

“One of the biggest challenges was that [Vista] was a moving target for the last three years. It was not until the last six to nine months that we truly understood how Microsoft would expose the information.” Freedom Scientific made their new version of JAWS available “within 30 days of the release of Vista,” said Damery.

Of the popular assistive technologies for vision impaired people, compatible versions of the screen reader Thunder and magnifier Lightning from the non-profit software provider and screen reader Window-Eyes version 6.1 from US-based GW Micro were released to coincide with the Vista launch.

A Vista-compatible version of magnifier ZoomText from US company AiSquared was released two weeks after Vista’s launch, and UK-based Dolphin, the assistive technology company that makes products for vision impaired people, has not yet launched its Vista-compatible version ‘8.1’ of Supernova, a screen reader and magnifier with Braille support; Hal, a screen reader; and magnifiers Lunar and LunarPlus. Dolphin told E-Access Bulletin these will go on the market in April or May, with recent purchasers entitled to a free upgrade.


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