View Full Version : Tools, symbols, and disabilities

Herman J. Woltring
09-30-1990, 11:19 AM
Dear Biomch-L readers,

While testing the 3-Space Isotrack device (R) mentioned some time ago, I found
that the software provided with the system cannot accomodate its 19200 maximum
Baud rate. The Kermit protocol from Columbia University, however, can accomo-
date such and even higher rates. While retrieving some of the Kermit informa-
tion on LISTSERV@HEARN (KERMIT newsgroup), I came across the following item on
PC's, Kermit, and visual/motoric impairments in Kermit News Nr. 4 of June 1990
(file NEWS N4 KERMIT) which, I think, might be of some interest to Biomch-L.

An interesting point is that this Newsletter has an ISSN (International Serials
Standard Number) which, it would appear, enhances accessibility of electronic
publications through conventional library channels, and thus the `status' of
such publications (for an irregular discussion forum like Biomch-L, ISSN
identification would seem premature, though). For further details, see file
NETMONTH 1990SEP, retrievable from LISTSERV@MARIST.

Considering the August/September 1990 Newsletter of the International Society
of Biomechanics where Biomch-L is quoted in the context of the Working Group on
Computer Simulation, I think that Kermit policy (copyright is used to ensure
non-profit dissemination and expansion) is most interesting. As claimed else-
where in NEWS N4 ("It's not just Academic!"), the contributions of many authors
from academic and industrial organisations have made Kermit a de-facto standard
for communication between many different computer types and with other equip-
ment. Hopefully, the WGCS proposals on software exchange between individuals
and institutions may develop along similar lines.

Regards -- Herman J. Woltring.
================================================== ========================


Robert J. Arnzen, DSc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA

The old adage "Man is a tool using animal" has been with us for quite some
time and the image that commonly springs to mind is that of a person wielding
a hand tool or using a machine to multiply muscle power or perform a task that
the human anatomy is otherwise ill equipped to accomplish. With today's
widespread availability of information processing "tools" it may be much more
appropriate to revise the old familiar adage and state that "Man is a symbol
using animal" and the contemporary image might be one of a person seated
before a personal computer, busily typing on a keyboard and viewing a video
screen filled with softly glowing symbols. The scene is commonplace and the
range of possibilities that exist for symbolic manipulation, that is to say,
information processing has become enormous. Moreover, when large numbers of
these systems are interconnected, the scope of application possibilities
becomes astronomical. The potential personal benefits to be gained are
correspondingly great.

Unfortunately, past experience has shown that persons with severe physical
handicaps of one form or another have not been able to enjoy the full or
even partial benefits that many new technologies provide and this has been
especially true for the visually disabled community. Happily, the advent of
the personal computer revolution did not follow that path. As personal
computer systems emerged in large numbers in the mid 70's, the proliferation
stimulated a host of new products for these systems. Of particular importance
to the potential blind users of PCs was the introduction of a number of speech
synthesizers in the early 1980's that were easily adapted to personal computer
hardware. The devices were not specifically targeted to the blind user but,
rather, manufacturers had the general population of PC owners in mind as a
market base. Consequently, the resultant high volume production of these
units reduced their cost dramatically and afforded the visually disabled an
opportunity to tap into the wealth of information that was rapidly becoming
widely available.

One of the principal ingredients of a speech equipped PC is the mechanism by
which new information is detected and captured on its way to the video display
system and subsequently processed for use by the speech synthesizer. Several
methods have been employed but the one that is frequently favored for use with
the MS-DOS operating systems running on IBM compatible equipment utilizes the
Terminate and Stay Resident (TSR) DOS function call or the DOS device driver
facility to install a program that remains resident in the memory of the
machine after loading is completed. In a nutshell, the function of this
program is threefold. First, it must detect and trap any new information
going to the video display system and the data is commonly copied into a
private buffer area so as not to adversely impact program execution speed.
Second, the program must monitor the keyboard for any special instructions to
change mode or to review the information displayed on the video screen.
Finally, the program must send the information it collects and processes to a
speech synthesizer attached to the PC. Of course, all of this must happen in
a manner that is completely transparent to the operation of a running program
or to the user. Clearly, these requirements can be extremely difficult to
satisfy and they become especially difficult in the case of communication
programs that are necessarily time critical processes.

In light of the stringent demands placed upon a communication program running
in a speech synthesized environment, Kermit has proven to be a marvelous file
transfer and terminal emulation system that I have found extremely useful for
my work with personal computers over the past 6 years. As an individual with
a visual handicap, Kermit has consistently proven to function in harmony with
the speech synthesis programs upon which I am completely dependent for gaining
access to the visual information displayed on a video monitor. Kermit is a
well behaved, robust protocol that can function reliably in a hostile
environment and has provided the blind community a valuable tool for making
the mainstream connection to a fabulous source of information.

Editorial Note -- Kermit developers have always made a special effort to keep
Kermit programs usable by people with visual, hearing, or motor impairments.
Other communication packages that fill the screen with brightly colored menus,
graphics and sound effects, and whose functions are invoked by arcane key
combinations like Ctrl-Alt-Shift-F10, are not compatible with most speech and
other prosthetic devices. As one disabled user (and developer) of Kermit puts

"In about 15 milliseconds I went from a 120 wpm touch typist to a 35 wpm
two-`finger' typist. Kermit's command abbreviation and completion feature
is a big plus for higher quadruplegics and cerebral palsy types who use
special keyboards. For some of those folks, a keystroke is a 10- to
120-second ordeal." -- Warren Tucker, Mountain Park, Georgia, USA
Kermit News, ISSN 0899-9309, is published periodically
free of charge by Kermit Development and Distribution,
Columbia University Center for Computing Activities, 612
West 115th Street, New York, NY 10025, USA. Contributed
articles are welcome. Material in Kermit News may be
quoted or reproduced without permission, but with proper
attribution. And be sure to send us a copy! [Sure - HJW].

Editor: Christine M. Gianone
E-Mail: cmg@watsun.cc.columbia.edu, KERMIT@CUVMA.BITNET

The Kermit file transfer protocol is named after Kermit
the Frog, star of the television series The Muppet Show,
used by permission of Henson Associates, Inc.