OK, so actually, a talking laptop for under $500 isn’t impossible. It isn’t even really new. It can be done even cheaper than I did it, if you don’t mind fooling with a bunch of stuff and doing nerdy things. I don’t know how usable NVDA is, or how easy to install or learn with no prior computer or screen reader knowledge. That may be a project for another time. Also, GNU/Linux with the Orca screen reader is still not really for the computer newbie, although I see this changing with efforts like Vibuntu. Still, there’s a substantial learning curve here as well, not to mention the install can be a little intimidating if you’re not comfortable with it.
But one of the new netbooks is a great start for such a system. Melanie has been needing a new computer for some time, and I just got her an Acer Aspire One for Christmas. For $349 at Radio Shack (cheaper elsewhere, no doubt, or right around with a bigger battery some places), it’s not a half bad deal. Because she has physical problems, she really needs something very lightweight, and this fills the bill nicely.
I’ve also set her up with Serotek’s System Access, a screen reader that’s really made great leaps forward in power and usability. It’s flexible, does what most people need it to do, has some interesting features, and is relatively inexpensive, especially with the software as a service offering (the route I went with), which costs $25 a month over four years. I’ve run the numbers, and what you get with this plan would cost only slightly less if you were to buy it all outright as opposed to this monthly plan. I even set up a U3-enabled smart drive so Melanie can use System Access on any other machine in case she doesn’t have her spiffy new notebook along for some reason. Total initial cost was $420 give or take a couple bucks. And it could have been less if I opted for a smaller U3-enabled drive (I got the 8 GB one), bought from an online retailer like Amazon, and so on. This price includes the $25 System Access account activation fee and the first month of service.
Melanie’s already been playing with System Access and has already found she likes it. It takes very little time to learn just a few commands to get practical use out of it, and there’s plenty of online help available.
I’m really excited to have her get started with the new system in just a few days.