Access IT review of SuperNova v11.50

4th May, 2010

SuperNova v11.50 was reviewed within the April 2010 edition of the RNIB's Access IT magazine by Graeme Allen. Graeme works at The Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford, UK.

Why I use SuperNova & a version 11.50 review.

In 1986, just after I commenced employment at The Royal National College for the Blind (RNCB) as a technician, the college was contacted by a new local company, calling themselves Dolphin. They were developing a screen reader and large print access systems specifically for the IBM PC.

This visit marked the beginning of RNCB's association with Dolphin and the use of personal computer accessibility. Prior to this we had mainly used mainframe systems and hardware accessibility options. Over the next 24 years, the college's computer acquisition increased significantly and so did RNCB's association with Dolphin.

During the same period Dolphin's range of innovative products to support computer-based accessibility has been established.

Open quotation mark.Since its release, I have been a constant user of Supernova. Over the years I have watched and used this application. Having to use a magnification and speech application doesn't mean that I enjoy using it but using Supernova is possibly the best multifunctional accessibility application available, which provides me with the best possible support for the wide range of applications and tasks I encounter on a daily basis.

February 2010 saw the latest release of Supernova version 11.50 from Dolphin. After reading the 'What's new' documentation I was keen to put 11.50 to the test.

The voice guidance informed me exactly at what stage the installation was at, and the installation was completed in a very short space of time.

A voice guided first time set-up routine allowed me to choose a default setting for the various required options or I could define my own required options settings, which would truly allow me to personalise Supernova. Once completed Supernova was up and running.

Moving around the Desktop and navigating the Start menu, I could not help but be impressed by the responsiveness of the speech, and the tracking of the magnification view (full screen) which glided around providing me with a responsive view of the Desktop when using the mouse.

To enable me to see the mouse pointers with greater ease, I use the 'Mouse Pointers' function to allow me to change the style and colour - this enables me to locate and track the mouse pointer on screen.

Supernova's Help system has always been okay, but nothing to write home about. Amongst many of the new and enhanced features was a new and improved Help system. As a trainer, one of the first things I teach new users, is how to get help. Once mastered, the Help system can be an invaluable resource, whether searching for a specific keystroke, how to complete a task or deal with an error message.

Open quote mark.The new and improved Help system is excellent, with instant access to Hot keys, Application Help, the excellent task based help available for the most popular of the Microsoft Office 2007 applications and the full Dolphin manual. The ability to take short notes relating to the running application can be a very handy additional resource.

Choosing the correct Verbosity scheme is also very important, especially in making sure the new user has as much support as possible. A new computer user has a great deal to contend with, learning the keyboard, becoming familiar with a screen reader or magnification application commands along with the main application, so with the additional four levels available in 11.50 there will be plenty of support available to suit the user's ability.

The arrival of Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 saw a new approach to the appearance to the Office range. This provided steep learning curves for many users transferring from XP and Microsoft Office 2003 or earlier, a task made even more difficult with a visual impairment. But an upside to this was the many new and improved features to Supernova.

Open quote mark.Using Supernova with Microsoft Word has become a far more enjoyable experience especially with a new set of quick keys, providing document navigation and access to various elements within documents quickly, along with improved menu navigation, formatting and spelling announcements to name but a few.

I find the key function "Caps Lock + Tab" which activates the 'Item Finder' a very useful function, providing me with access to a range of information relating to the task I am currently doing located in one dialogue box.

The Doc Reader is another one of many features within Supernova, especially useful when proof-reading Word documents, with its ability to configure it to my preferred colour scheme, font size, word highlighting etc.

Along with Microsoft Excel, Internet Explorer, Windows Live Messenger and Skype, the rewritten maps and scripts now provide a far more stable and reliable experience.

With this latest version of Supernova I am now able to use Google Earth and other such applications that use a system called Open-GL, offering me the ability to use the application to its fullest.

Open quote mark.I spend a lot of time on the internet; it can offer so many experiences and can be a fantastic resource - information, shopping, entertainment to name but a few. If you have sight accessing this information is not an issue, the problem arises when screen readers and magnification applications have to be used. No matter how sophisticated a screen reader is, often it can be hard work to find even the simplest piece of information. Supernova tries to provide me with an enjoyable experience similar to the sighted user. With the virtual cursor providing full navigation and interrogation of the loaded web page, a full set of Keystrokes to allow me to move through a web page using a wide range of quick keys quickly and effortlessly, and with verbal announcements and guidance at all times.

The 'Situation Setting' function is a very handy function that allows me to define how I want Supernova to work with a specific application. I can create a 'Situation Setting' file easily. It can save a great deal of time as my preferred settings for a specific application are saved and activated as the application is loaded, and if I need to modify the 'Situation Setting' at any time I can do this very easily.

Using a refreshable braille display in conjunction with Supernova speech has in previous versions always provided an alternative method of accessing screen-based information. It can be a very effective method of proof reading and validating spoken announcements. Having to listen to large amounts of spoken information can be very tiring; using a refreshable braille display to support the audio can help keep the user focused. Having carried out training with users who have a visual and hearing impairment I found the use of a braille display a great communication aid.

As well as training users in ICT I also train users in the use of braille technology. The new feature of having the ability to connect the HIMS Braille Sense Plus to a computer running Supernova 11.50 and being able to use the Braille Sense's braille input keys to enter text into the running application works very well. This method offers another alternative of inputting text.

As I move on through life I find that I am relying on Supernova more and more and it continues to amaze me with its versatility.

The review is kindly reproduced on the Dolphin website thanks to Access IT magazine and the review was written by Graeme Allen who is employed by RNC (The Royal National College for the Blind) in Hereford, UK.

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