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Accessible Office Technology
Even though computers are accessible using screen access solutions, you may find that certain job tasks are difficult or impossible to complete due to inaccessible workplace technology. Many devices found in the modern workplace have few accessible options. Two of the most commonly inaccessible and widely used pieces of office technology are:
- Multi-function printers (MFPs): large copier/scanner/printer/fax machines
- Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones: telephones that use the Internet to make and receive calls
Some MFPs and VoIP phones are more accessible than others, and this document describes the most accessible options for a person who is blind. If you can’t obtain the most accessible solutions, this document also provides tips to make inaccessible VoIP systems and MFPs more usable.
Most MFPs have accessibility issues that make them difficult to use, such as:
- indistinguishable physical keys
- low contrast displays
- inaccessible touchscreens
Two MFPs, from Canon and Lexmark respectively, are accessible. AFB Tech tested each device to ensure ease of use.
- The Canon Voice Guidance kit is an external module that connects to Canon imageRUNNER devices to provide text-to-speech feedback for device functions. The device is controlled with the keypad and you can change the text-to-speech speed, volume, and pitch. The Canon Voice Operation kit is similar but includes voice dictation and adds accessibility to further functionality. Canon can provide braille overlays for keys if desired. The Voice Guidance Kit is priced around $750 and the Voice Operation Kit is priced around $1800.
The Lexmark Accessibility Solution is a web interface that allows you to set up printing jobs on a Lexmark device from your office computer. The interface can also be accessed from any web-capable device connected to the network and uses standard controls so that it can be accessed with many different screen access solutions. Users can set up jobs from the interface and then launch it from the device with a short numerical code. You can submit multiple jobs and submit them consecutively. Lexmark has also produced Lexmark Accessibility Speech which provides audio messages for status indications. These can be customized by your system administrator. The Accessibility Solution is priced at $656 and the Accessibility Speech is $375 from third-party vendors. Lexmark also provides accessible overlays for their MFPs.
If you cannot obtain an accessible MFP solution, there are a few modifications that can allow you to make use of an inaccessible MFP:
- Add tactile overlays for indistinguishable keys
- Add tactile markings to static buttons on touch displays
- Set up favorites for jobs
- Navigate using a keypad if possible, and memorize critical menus
The most common way of making a VoIP system accessible is by using a softphone for phone functions. A softphone is a software system for making telephone calls over the internet using a VoIP system. AFB tested two softphones that run on the Windows operating system and have been designed to provide accessibility for inaccessible VoIP systems.
Accessaphone by Tenacity is a softphone that uses standard Windows controls so that it is accessible to screen readers. Accessaphone connects to a physical VoIP phone so that the phone's microphone provides input and the phone's speaker provides output. Accessaphone can make use of the Windows SAPI 5 text-to-speech voices installed on your computer to voice controls and caller ID if desired. It also includes keyboard shortcuts to make navigating the interface quick and efficient. It works with multiple VoIP networks, including Alworx, iCore, NEC, Shortel, and Cisco. One license is priced at $1500, with a discount available for buying in bulk.
VTGO508 Softphone by IP Blue Software Solutions is another Windows-based softphone that is designed for use with the Cisco Call Manager platform. It does not require a physical phone but can use a microphone for input and your computer speakers/headphones for output. It contains similar features to Accessaphone: accessible controls, access to text-to-speech, and keyboard shortcuts. In AFB's testing, it was not preferred by users as some controls are not read when using a screen reader. When using a screen magnifier, many controls are only represented by images instead of real text. This softphone is priced at $750 per license, making it a less costly option in comparison to Accessaphone. Even with the issues noted above, it is possible to accurately use the softphone to access VoIP features.
Due to the high cost of commercial accessible softphones for Windows, you may not be able to obtain one for your office. There are many mainstream Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) softphones, several of which AFB has tested and found to be accessible:
- Telephone (OSX)
- A SIP softphone accessible with Apple's VoiceOver screen reader
- Provides access to basic phone functions
- Free to download and use
- Acrobits Softphone (iOS)
- A softphone for iOS that is accessible using Apple's VoiceOver screen reader
- Provides basic features such as address book, call log, and caller ID
- Transferring, conferencing, and other advanced functions are not available
- Users can easily record and replay calls
- Connects to many VoIP providers and can be configured with a generic SIP account
- The app is priced at $6.99 at time of writing
- 3CX Phone3 (iOS)
- An advanced softphone usable with VoiceOver
- Can connect to SIP networks
- Some static buttons are unlabeled but dynamic content is displayed properly
- Advanced features such as transferring and conferencing are available
- Multiple phone lines can be active at once
- Free to download and use
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones are found in many offices but are often inaccessible to individuals with blindness or visual impairments (BVI). If you’re assisting a consumer who is BVI to acquire an accessible VoIP system for their office, and want to make sure that it’s fully accessible, here are the top 10 features to keep in mind.
Keys on VoIP phones that are uniform in shape and texture and are placed close together can be difficult to use for individuals with BVI. A VoIP phone that has well-spaced, prominent keys that are different shapes and textures can make the interface of a physical VoIP phone accessible. Keys with unique textures or shapes provide a point of orientation and make memorizing key locations easier when navigating a phone by touch.
Like most physical phones, VoIP phones usually display caller ID on a digital display that is difficult for someone with BVI to use. A VoIP phone that can connect to an external talking caller ID or has some other way of non-visually communicating caller ID can be used successfully by someone with BVI.
VoIP phones have visual indicators to alert users to new voicemail. Look for systems that present this information in an accessible manner. For example, sending an email to the user upon receipt of a voicemail is an accessible alternative for people with BVI.
The call log of a physical VoIP phone is available on the digital display without an accessible alternative. Currently, an accessible call log can be acquired by connecting a software based VoIP phone (softphone) to the same line as the physical phone so that it can be accessed by a person with BVI using computer access software.
Like the call log, the address book is presented visually on the digital display of a physical VoIP phone. The most accessible way to use the address book is to use a softphone that can make calls on the same line as the physical phone so that the user can use the address book using screen access software on the softphone.
A softkey is a physical button that changes function depending on circumstances. The current function of a softkey is presented visually on a digital display just above the key so that a user knows what the key will do if pressed. Softkeys that have audible or tactile indications that their status has changed are accessible to people with BVI.
In many cases VoIP displays are not backlit and have small fonts and low contrast, making the display very difficult to read for someone with low vision. A VoIP phone is more accessible if the display has high contrast between foreground and background. Large font also makes the display easier to read.
Printed documentation that uses a small font is inaccessible to someone with BVI. The most universally accessible style of documentation will be digital formats such as DOCX or HTML. Digital documents can be enlarged by screen magnifiers, read with screen readers, or printed in braille. (NOTE: PDF documents that contain only images of text are not accessible to screen readers or braille displays.)
In order to be accessible, status changes, such as phone muting and display navigation, should have sounds to signal these changes. Such sounds, commonly called earcons, make navigating VoIP systems easier for a person with BVI. For example, a different tone playing for mute and unmute allows a person with BVI to determine the status of their device.
The display on a physical phone can be used for many functions, from caller ID to settings. Communicating this information using synthetic speech makes a VoIP system more accessible. Currently, the only method for presenting VoIP functions in a completely accessible manner is to use a softphone, because there are no physical VoIP phones that present their information in an accessible manner from the device itself.