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Gadgets offer blind users extra help

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What technology gadgets do the experts love? CNN.com is asking experts in several fields about their favorite high-tech toys. This week, we asked Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blindexternal link.

(CNN) -- Blind since childhood, Paul Schroeder is a huge fan of technology because it plays such a key role in his information-driven life.

Whether managing staff as vice president of programs and policy at the American Foundation for the Blind or working on disability-related legislation and policy, Schroeder relies on assistive technology to keep up with colleagues, make notes of meetings on Capitol Hill, stay informed on issues, craft talking points and enjoy himself during some downtime.

He shared some of his most prized gadgets with CNN.com:

PC with a screen reader

Like most working professionals, the personal computer is at the center of my day. But my PC comes with a life-changing software application called a screen reader. Basically, screen readers access information displayed on computer monitors and interpret that information via text-to-speech output.

A screen reader (along with good text-to-speech synthesizers) allows me to write/edit word-processing documents, send or receive e-mails, surf the Web ... you get the idea.

Braille notetaker

When I step into a senator's office, I have about five minutes to discuss a topic that I've researched for months.

The pressure is on, but thankfully my Braille-enabled notetaker allows me to breathe a little easier during these visits. It is essentially a small computer with a one-line Braille display and a Braille-input keypad.

This device is indispensable to me for taking notes, making presentations or reviewing/editing documents. It basically serves as a backup brain by allowing me to pull up my research quickly, present and record new feedback.

The notetaker has plenty of other useful features. I've found the alarm and stopwatch features to be very handy. In fact, I've even used the stopwatch at a swim meet to check my daughter's time before the official posting.

Book Port and BookShare

I've become quite devoted to the Book Port (a text reader and MP3 player especially designed for blind users by the American Printing House for the Blind). The Book Port is easy to use, extremely portable and well-designed as an audio player and text-to-speech converter.

Every morning, before work, I can go to a special Web site called BookShare (featuring books and other information made available for people with print-reading disabilities) and download The New York Times and The Washington Post, to get the important news and trends of the day, so I can keep up with my sighted colleagues.

And, yes, I'll admit that I've become quite addicted to using the Book Port's MP3 playback capability when I'm exercising.

Cell phone with TALKS software

Most people would agree that nowadays cell phones are an extension of the human body. But without TALKS software, my cell phone would remain one of those unused muscles that only gets awakened every couple of years when I try a new exercise routine.

TALKS is a speech-enabling software created by Cingular Wireless that enables the Nokia 6620 handset to function as a talking mobile phone. TALKS gives me full access to the capabilities of my phone, from reviewing messages and phone logs, to creating and editing address/call lists. And the phone's alarm function (accessible through TALKS) has saved me on many occasions.


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The American Foundation for the Blind's Paul Schroeder says assitive technology helps him keep up with his sighted colleagues.

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