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Freedom Box

Web Surfing for the Blind

"Visually challenged" people may have a new ally on the World Wide Web.

It's an interesting marketing idea that promises to open up the Web to people who otherwise might be shut out of that online cornucopia.

Called the Freedom Box Network, it's an online shopping mall tailored for the blind and disabled. A product of Serotek Corporation, Freedom Box combines special Browsing software with speech recognition technology to let its target audience access and navigate the World Wide Web using simple voice commands.

The Freedom Box supposedly turns the links on a Web site into voice commands, eliminating the person's need to use a mouse and/or keyboard. This supposedly gives subscribers voice access to consumer products from such retail sites as

Freedom Box also offers E-mail - with recording, text-creation and address-book capabilities; there are news and information services, employment search resources, games and audio books, and easy access to disabled-friendly Web sites. They claim that future services will include document scanning, Internet chat, online banking and financial services, and even auctions.

It isn't the be-all and end-all for Web surfing, however. Because it reads a Web site's text, it'll run into problems with sites that use graphics to display information and don't include alternative text inside an "ALT" tag. Other sites won't work with the Freedom Box if they depend on stuff like JavaScript, Java applets, and Macromedia Flash. Some of these problems will undoubtedly be worked out as the technology marches on, but for now the blind are in a bind.

And naturally, people who use speech boxes or who have thick accents are likely to cause the software to have a hissy fit.

Still, though we haven't actually tried it, Freedom Box seems like a good idea and if it works as advertised it could be a really valuable tool for people who might otherwise have a lot of trouble accessing the Net.

Freedom Box is available as a software solution for existing PC's or as a standalone piece. It's priced from $99 to $1499US, plus a monthly access charge.

Freedom Box went live in the United States in February 2002 and promises to expand as the year unfolds.


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January 31, 2006