Our product of focus is called ALT. ALT is a workflow accelerator allowing workers (whether blind, low vision or sighted) to work with dramatic improvements when using Windows-based products, the workplace standard.

Tech Solutions for Visual Independence - ALT - task acceleration - 10 minute introduction

ALT - Interview with David Burnett, CEO - End to End Network

ALT - an Interview with Garth Long

What's a workflow accelerator? ALT is a program that allows the user to create Accelerators (aka Job aka Macro aka Shortcut) to speed the users progress. Basically it's ALT creates user-specific shortcuts to get from point A to point Z faster, with a single command. ALT allows the screen magnification user or screen reader user the ability to create Jobs that targets the specific tasks they complete most. For example, the accelerators created will complete a task which normally takes 15 steps/clicks/keyboard commands into single steps.

Holy MMacro! What's a MMacro? A macro is basically a recorded series of keyboard commands or mouse clicks. A recorded macro allows the user to perform a named tasked with one click as opposed to repeating the same series of clicks every time. ALT MMacros(many steps beyond conventional macros) enables users to create a job/macro independently without being, or having the need for, a computer programmer. ALT MMacros provide direct API control of 200+ Screen Reader functions without the need for complex keystrokes. ALT MMacros are dynamic, available to variables supplied by the user each time the Accelerator Job is used.
ALT also allows the users to give their Accelerator Job/Mmacro a specific name utilizing user created keyboard shortcuts.

What's a Shortcut? Using Windows we all know how to launch a program using keyboard shortcut. For example, if we want to open Microsoft Word we would hit Ctrl, Alt, and the W key. Thus instead of locating and then clicking on the icon for Microsoft Word the user simply presses the keyboard shortcut command.What are some other examples of Windows shortcut keys? How about Copy (Ctrl c), Paste (Ctrl v), and Cut (Ctrl x). Now you can get an idea of how many shortcut keys Windows has just by itself and yup every other program has many others. So imagine trying to set up your own shortcut keys. The pool of key commands possible become limited as they are already being used by other software programs! ALT has no such limits. ALT allows the user to expand their pool of available shortcut key commands with meaningfully named Accelerators , not complex keystrokes. The user can create their own Accelerators using words or letter combinations that are specific to the user and make sense to the individual.

Does that mean your going to spend days creating jobs/macros/shortcut keys? Nope! ALT already has a large library of Accelerators which work with Windows, Microsoft Office ( Microsoft Excel, Outlooks, Word, Power Point), JAWS™, Window Eyes™, Cobra™ and more.

If you create an ALT Job on one computer do you have to create the same Job again if you want to use ALT on another computer? No, ALT allows the users to import, export, or share Jobs created by the user with other users.

So how does ALT increase productivity of Visually Impaired and Blind users?
Well as I answer that question lets discuss how someone with Low Vision uses a computer. Low Vision means the user has some usable vision thus they are able to see the computer screen using a screen magnification program. A screen magnification program does exactly what is says, it magnifies the image displayed on the screen. However bigger is not always better. Realize that when you magnify the image on the screen you also reduce the amount of information the user can see on the screen at one time. Thus in order to see all of the magnified image displayed on the screen the user must scroll or pan up,down, left, or right to visually locate an icon, link, and or menu displayed on the screen. For example, if we magnify the screen to 2x the user can see about 1/2 of the information displayed on the screen before they must scroll or pan. The same formula appears to apply for large magnification levels such as 4x is equal to 1/4 of the information displayed and 6x is equal to 1/6 of the on the screen. This process always slows down the user as it will take a low vision user longer to visually locate a requested location than their sighted peers. So how does a low vision computer user increase their speed? Well you could utilize your screen magnifier such as Magic™ or Zoomtext™ to set a target. A target being a visually “bulls eye” that moves your cursor to a set location such as top right, bottom left, or center of the screen. Or more likely the user will utilize the mouse as well as keyboard short cuts. I mean why look for the address bar when you can press ALT d? Every time the user touches the mouse, the process becomes slower.

As a teacher the problem we encounter the most with students is Screen Magnification vs. Screen Readers. Students who utilize screen magnification software at 6x or above lack proficiency as it takes them longer to visually locate a target/link. Students transitioning to a screen reader hate listening to Jaws talk constantly, lack the computer terminology (I.E. status bar, task bar, field, frames etc.), have difficulty memorizing the three key combinations need for Jaws™, and insist on utilizing what vision they still have as they feel it is faster. This dependence on their weakest sense increases strain with discomfort and headaches being a common result.

ALT increases the productivity of low vision users by utilizing Accelerators/Jobs. For example, say you wanted to search Google for something. The user would first have to locate the icon for Google, click it, locate the search field, type in the query, click search, and the visually locate the links displays. ALT bypasses these multiple steps and takes the user from point A to Z immediately. How? Well using ALT the user would press ALT 2x bring up the ALT dialog box. They would then type “g” for Google followed but the search query. ALT locates and opens the browser program for you, opens the Google Website, enters your query, and targets your cursor directly on the items found thus it reduces the amount of steps needed to complete the task as well as the additional time needed by the user to visually scan and locate the information needed.

Now Blind users utilize software called Screening Readers. Screen Reading software does exactly what is says...It reads what is displayed visually on the screen as well as verbalizing every change on the screen. This quickly becomes “noisy”. Why? Because the user can't see the monitor. So what does it read? EVERYTHING! Everything from the menu bar, task bar, icons, status bar, and dialog boxes. Because the Blind user does not use a mouse, all the navigation is done using Screen Reader commands, (complex keystrokes entered in combinations that are difficult to learn and remember as they are not often logical), yup more keyboard shortcut keys. So how many more keyboard commands does the user have to memorize to utilize a screen reader like JAWS?...well at least 50! Screen readers also announce your location on the screen (menu bar), the location on the menu bar (file), the type of menu encountered (pull down menu, combo box or radio button), submenus etc....
Wow that's a lot of noise! A truth known to all Screen Reader users. ALT silences the screen reader from repeating every single detail of the operation performed. While the user invokes an ALT Accelerator/Job, ALT suppresses the screen reader speech as the “journey steps” (between point A and Z) are completed immediately and so quickly that they need not be heard! The reduction in Audio fatigue is a common praise from ALT users.

How does that work ..don't you need to hear everything the screen reader is saying to know where you are? Let's think about that...do sighted users need the computer to speak back every location or button our mouse hovers or clicks on? No. Of course a Blind user will want the screen reader to speak however once and ALT Accelerator/Job is evoked the screen reader speech is suppressed until the job is complete and returns to normal actions thereafter.

The three major commercial screen readers used by Blind users to access a windows based computers are JAWS™, Window-Eyes™, and Cobra™. ALT has the ability to drive these three screen readers directly using a program-to-program interface. What does drive mean? Drive means that the functions of the screen reader can be evoked using the screen reader keyboard short cuts or ALT keyboard shortcuts. How? ...well ALT has taken these three screen readers, listed all of their functions, and created a one command fits all database using initial letter shortcut keyboard commands. That means provided your using ALT it doesn't matter whether your using the screen reader for JAWS, Window-Eyes, or Cobra the same ALT command applies. ALT also has a user friendly search feature enabling the user to look up any Job/key command.

Why would this matter? Well because when you’re trying to learn all of the windows commands as well as the JAWS commands you’re looking at a pretty long list. Not only is the list of commands long they don't all make sense. Furthermore many commands require the user to hit multiple keys at the same time performing some pretty interesting keyboard acrobatics. ALT allows the user to utilize known keyboard commands as well as utilize the ALT command dialog box . This is similar to the run dialog box. Utilizing this interface the user is able to type in the command one key at a time and then simply press enter. This function also works well for those individuals with limited finger dexterity.

Another nifty feature is the TextModules option. TextModules allows the user to insert predefined blocks of text (snippits) utilizing an accelerator. For example, we all have to sign email with our official name, title, address, and contact information. The user is able to create a TextModule accelerator for this purpose, name the accelerator/job something that makes sense for them such as “sig”, and insert the text. Using a simple command such as “,sig”. Comma as the signal for the TextModule to follow, followed by space to trigger the replacement with the stored text. The TextModules work for you in any location, email, Word Docs, web forms, everywhere!

Lastly, ALT enables Blind users to quickly navigate through any program whether its 508 compliant or not. Basically most software programs are created for the general population. These software programs are not always compatible with screen readers as many pictures, links, and dialog boxes go unlabeled. Typically the user would have to contact a technical person to program a JAWS specific script to enable the screen reader to function correctly with the software program. ALT does not require scripting. Simply create an Accelerator/Job by typing in the exact sequence of commands you use to navigate to a given location or have a person with sight click the sequence for you. It's a once and done nuisance however now the user will be able to move to from point A to point Z using the Accelerator/Job you've created (again and again!) without additional software, additional help, tedious keyboard commands, or expensive screen reader scripts. Perfect.

Who Else is Using ALT?

We work with and for many organizations whose names you will recognize. In Canada: the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). In the USA: the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) along with others.

CNIB: Our work at CNIB, now 1 year old, began with the implementation of ALT in their National Call Centre and ended with a decision to advance with a country-wide deployment of ALT.

“At CNIB we employ blind, low vision and sighted employees in our National Helpline. We implemented ALT (from U-R-Able and Dräger and Lienert) to accelerate access to information and workflows. Our six-month statistics illustrate that the performance of our blind and low-vision workers increased by 35%, quickly meeting the productivity levels of sighted team mates performing the same duties. The parity achieved resulted in balancing the work amongst the whole group which increased employee satisfaction. Additionally we achieved an increase in overall productivity resulting in increased customer satisfaction, without an increase in budgetary salary. We attribute these benefits to great teamwork and a great product, ALT.” Karen Allen - National Manager, Customer Relations – CNIB Canada

National Federation of the Blind (NFB): Our work with the NFB began in February 2012 when we were invited by the Chair of the NFB Research and Development Committee (Hai Nguyen Ly) to present at their annual meeting in Baltimore. This resulted, after a warm reception, with the invitation to participate in a “deep dive” review of ALT with a team of 8 from the Research and Development Committee. The results of the review were positive leading to the request to attend the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) annual convention in July (Dallas) and present to 6 different groups including the National Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (Melody Roane, Chair) and others.

"As chair of the NFB Research and Development Committee, my goal is to seek out and research innovative technologies that will allow the blind equal access to education and employment. We have found such a technology, and are nearing completion of a 3 month hands-on trail of a product called ALT. ALT accelerates information access by removing in between steps, eliminating the memorization of multiple keystrokes, allowing the user to focus on the end goal. ALT is a platform that helps deliver Universal access, without the requirement to alter the computer’s own software. This is a new and innovative solution that will help equalize access in education and employment.” Hai Nguyen Ly, Chair -

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Research and Development Committee
“I have spent many weeks working with the team from U-R-Able on the ALT project, and I am convinced that ALT, as a system, is a tremendous productivity tool for people who are blind--as it can be for many others as well.” Curtis Chong, President, National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science.

Tech Solutions for Visual Independence


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