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"Hi, I'm Leasey, What Would You Like to Do?"

Improving Computing Efficiency
Introducing Leasey Advanced
Introducing LeaseyAudio and LeaseySticky Notes

Read About the Upcoming Leasey Tech Talk Presentation and Accessible Skype

I'm very much looking forward to Sight Village 2014, which begins tomorrow at the New Bingley Hall in Birmingham. It is the premiere exhibition in the UK with close to 100 exhibitors displaying the latest and greatest technology. This year, we at Astec have something very exciting to show. Meet Leasey: Learn, Enable, Advance – So Easy!

Leasey is ideal for the computer beginner, those who have a little knowledge and want to learn more and, even for the advanced computer user, she's an incredibly powerful lady!

The Background.

There are still very many people who do not know how to use a computer. When it is switched on, and the screen-reader announces it is running, what happens next? Where do you start? How do you send an email, write a document, make a Skype call or surf the internet? What about these cool DAISY or Audible books people talk about? How does that all work?

Leasey can metaphorically "hold a person's hand" from the moment the JAWS screen-reader is loaded. She brings into view a simple menu system, where the Up and Down Arrow keys are used to move through the options. Alternatively, first letter navigation can be used to reach the desired choice. When you get to the item you are wanting, press Enter.

But even with the most sophisticated of speech synthesisers which are quite "human sounding", if you're not familiar with synthetic speech it takes time for your ears to become atuned to what is being read from the screen. Leasey takes this all away. Her voice is spoken by a real human being. She will not only speak her menus and lots of guidance, but she also provides you with help, every step of the way. So, if you're in the Main Menu, and you don't know that you need to use the Arrow keys to move through, that's OK. Just press the Leasey help key. The help is extremely context sensitive appropriate not only to the majority of Windows controls, but also web page elements, Microsoft Office components and all of our many supported applications, of which more later.

Louise Keel, (my Co-Developer of Leasey), and I have thought very carefully about the way the help should be delivered. It is clearly ennunciated so as to leave no room for doubt as to what is being said, but Leasey is your friend, not to be patronising or coseting you, but to give you straightforward, friendly, easy-to-understand help. This is especially true on the internet which can be very confusing for new users. What if you are confronted with a multi-selection List Box on the internet? How do you work with that? Ask Leasey and she'll tell you.

Leasey gives you help and guidance as and when you need it. Move the cursor rapidly through menus or use quick key navigation? Leasey is right there with you, speaking the newly selected item. Do you want to stop Leasey talking? Simply press the Control key. Do you need Leasey to repeat what she last said? If so, press the Repeat key. Do you want to dispense with the voice guidance and switch to Leasey Advanced? No problem. It can be done with a simple keystroke, but Leasey's help system is always there to be used, putting you in complete control.

What Can Leasey Do?

Without exaggeration, I could write a book detailing what Leasey can do right now and what we have in mind for the future. But lets detail a few features which could not only be used for the beginner but which advanced users may also find helpful.

Leasey brings together a number of mainstream industry-standard applications, not only presenting easy access to them, but where appropriate modifying the interface in such a way that the new user can work with them. We give you a choice as to the programs to be used, and in most cases, have not created our own. If you develop an interface which is very structured as Leasey's beginner components are, it's important that you give people room to grow. Remember, that Leasey understands you may be a new computer user at first, but she wants you to expand your computing skills. So as you learn more, you will want to try new things and work with more programs. That is natural.

So, Leasey's Main Menu allows you to open a word processor, which can either be Microsoft Word or HJ Pad from Freedom Scientific if the former is not an option. For Email, we use Microsoft Outlook, or Windows Live Mail if Outlook is not installed. I hope you are beginning to get the picture.

When within one of the supported programs, you use Leasey's Application Menu system. Again, this is context sensitive and relative to the situation you are working within. The Application Menu is designed to give you access to the most common options you are likely to want to carry out in the situation you are facing.

As an example, when inside an Email message you are composing, she will give you options to "Open Leasey Connect", (a central repository for your Contacts including Email, Twitter usernames, Skype contacts and phone numbers), move to the Subject field, spell check the message, send the Email, and so on. But when you are within a message you have received, you will want different options, such as to reply to a message. Leasey is smart enough to know where you are and what you might want to do.

But as your skills increase, we want you to eventually walk away from the menu system, which is why the Leasey Help gives you the keystrokes necessary to do these things a little more quickly.

I've Never Been Taught How to Use the Keyboard. Can Leasey Help with that?

Absolutely she can. From the Main Menu, simply acccess the option "Improve Your Keyboard Skills". The amazing TypeAbility program, developed by David Pinto of Yes Accessible, will not only describe the keyboard layout, but you can work through 100 lessons thoroughly teaching you how to use the keyboard. There are speed tests, games, quizzes, and more, all presented in a fun and interactive way. I've never seen a typing tutor which is as thorough as TypeAbility. Take a look at this video and you can hear what other people think!

Special Leasey Features.

As I discuss later some of the features in Leasey Advanced, (for the power user), you will perhaps feel that Leasey is J-Tools "in a different dress". It would be very wrong of you to think that. J-Tools was a product I developed some years ago as a kind of swiss army knife for all your computing needs and included many tools which I hoped you would find helpful. Certainly some of those features have found their way into Leasey, but they've been considerably improved upon.

There are already some new features. Lets start with the LeaseyDiary.

I've no idea how many people have said to me over the years how difficult using a calendar is. But we all need to be reminded of important upcoming events. Certainly Microsoft Outlook can be used when you have the skill, but LeaseyDiary is a very simple calendar. She allows you to store an appointment and there is a very comprehensive Notes area to store unlimited text appropriate to the appointment, such as a meeting agenda.

When viewing diary entries, you move through the months of the year presented in a list form. As you move through, you will hear whether appointments exist for a given month. You can then examine them and of course, read and even edit the Notes. Have you ever had long-kept appointments that it was too much hassle to delete cluttering up your calendar? With Leasey, you can delete them with one simple keystroke.

We hope to be able to make it possible to import calendar appointments from Microsoft Outlook if that is what people would like to do. Incidentally, you can do the simple things too, for example hear the current date or insert the date into your document such as a letter.

LeaseyClock is exactly what it says. You can hear the time, set alarms, use a countdown timer or the powerful stopwatch. Of course, for the advanced user, both LeaseyDiary and LeaseyClock have keyboard shortcuts associated with them so as to bypass Leasey's menu system, as does probably my favourite feature of the moment, LeaseySearch.

What Is LeaseySearch?

In her menu system, Leasey gives you the ability to listen to DAISY Talking Books (maybe from RNIB or Bookshare), and to hear books downloaded from the Audible website. So it seemed sensible to give people the ability to choose what they would like to listen to a little more easily than is currently the case.

LeaseySearch at the moment allows you to search the RNIB Talking Book and Braille catalogues, the Bookshare catalogue and also the amazing selection of books from Audible. She will ask you for the author and title of the book you would like to search for. She first examines the websites to ascertain if results matching your criteria exist, and, if they do, she'll bring them back to you so you can read the publisher's summary or place an order. No need to go to the provider's website, find an edit field, type in what you want, press Enter, and have all the problem of finding where the results start. You can do it quickly from whichever program you are working in.

We hope to extend LeaseySearch to include other providers of books together with maybe online stores and services.

Leasey Advanced.

While there are more specialist features and those for new users, lets turn our attention for a moment to Leasey Advanced.

There are many features allowing you to make the most of your computer. LeaseySelect gives you the ability to easily highlight text in documents, Email messages and web pages. Support is currently in place for Notepad, Wordpad, Microsoft Word, Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, the JAWS Results Viewer, Adobe Reader to name most of them. There's probably one or two I've forgotten.

LeaseyPoints has the potential to be of huge advantage to people who are studying and in the workplace. Much more than a regular bookmark, you can set up multiple LeaseyPoints for each Microsoft Word document for instant retrieval.

LeaseyPoints however are particularly helpful on the internet. Not only can they immediately through keystrokes take you to required parts of web pages, but they can also react to specific text events input by the user. So, if you are working in a browser-based application, and you want to be alerted when a particular phrase is present, Leasey can do that for you.

There are many other features including LeaseyWeb (for HTML composition), LeaseyCuts (for storing shortcuts to web pages, documents and folders), and LeaseyNotes for those long text passages you need to type on a regular basis. Oh, and I forgot to mention a feature we hope to implement, LeaseyCloud. You can store your settings on LeaseyCloud and download them to another computer of your choosing.

So What Is The Future for Leasey?

Well, first, you can come and meet her at Sight Village this week if you are visiting the exhibition. We would be very pleased indeed to welcome you to the Astec stand! Please remember that, while we are dying to show Leasey to you and want you to be as excited as we are about her, this is a prototype of the program. We hope the first version of Leasey will be launched in November with pricing information available at the time of launch.

But as for the future, there is no limit. We have a plan for the next six months or more of features we would like to see included, and of course many more will we hope be driven by potential user input. But very realistic examples would be the introduction of a radio and audio CD player, Skype, support for iTunes, Spotify, Amazon's Kindle and more. Louise and I together with the team at Astec think creatively. We're quite tired of hearing what isn't accessible and what we're lead to believe we can't do. We're more interested in what we can do, and, through Leasey, encourage other people to use the computer to its full potential.

In closing, I should say that in addition to comprehensive written documentation, Leasey will come equipped with a Getting Started tutorial in DAISY format, talking you through many of Leasey's features together with important Windows concepts. And of course, because it is in DAISY format, you can hear it on your portable player or indeed by using Leasey herself!

Whether you're a computer newby or a power user, Leasey could be your friend for life!