- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

Today’s technology — with its focus on the Internet, e-mail, online billing and networking — can be a challenge to the blind and visually impaired.

Voice synthesizers, text enlargement software, scanners, and braille output devices are commercially available, but most of them require more time to access the Internet and are often complicated to set up.

However, one Maryland company took the initiative to develop a system that would enable the visually impaired to surf the Web as quick as everyone else. Audiopoint, an automatic speech recognition software-oriented business in Rockville, developed the Voice Terminal Service (VTS), which allows its customers to fully access the Internet through voice commands via any type of telephone.

“The unique thing about our product is that it is a platform-based application service through a set phone number, and it is hardware agnostic so that our customers can use it on any phone, anywhere and anytime,” Audiopoint’s chief executive officer, Brian Lichorowic, said.

“The Voice Terminal Service was actually designed by a couple hundred blind individuals who gave us their input on what they want access to most; we ultimately built our product around their feedback,” he added.

Jane Sheehan, a resident of Aspen Hill and a Quality Insurance specialist in the District, was introduced to VTS six months ago when she was planning a trip to the Seeing Eye in New Jersey to purchase a new dog.

Because of Ms. Sheehan’s occupation and involvement on several boards of directors, she was concerned that being away from a computer for longer than a week would disable her from being up to date with the current news.

“A friend of mine actually suggested Audiopoint to me; when I called them, they gave me a free account to test [VTS] out,” Ms. Sheehan said. “I was able to give the company suggestions on what improvements to make with the service and it was nice to be on the cutting-edge aspect of the product.”

About 30,000 customers are using the product internationally. Although VTS is currently only available in English, Audiopoint is in the process of launching the service in Spanish and French.

“Audiopoint has recently upgraded the Voice Terminal Service,” Mr. Lichorowic said. “In addition to having full access to the Internet, e-mail, and customized Web information, we incorporated a voice-automated Google calendar to allow our users to listen to their daily agendas and add user-recorded audio events to their calendar.”

Ms. Sheehan especially enjoys the service because she says it has simplified her life and freed her from being linked to her computer.

“The Voice Terminal Service is very easy to use; first, I call the service number and put in my personal identification number, then I am navigated through voice commands,” she said.

“An interesting part of the service is when I respond to e-mails, I can record a 45-second wave attachment to send.”

The VTS is avaliable as a monthly or annual subscription at affordable prices. Audiopoint offers their VTS for free to visually impaired United States veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VTS is avaliable for purchase at voiceterminal.net.

“Unfortunately our product is not yet for sale through organizations such as Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind; however, we have spoken with them numerous times and hope to have it sold by them in the future,” Mr. Lichorowic said. No formal talks are currently taking place.”

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