Foreword by Max Robinson.This article introduces a new contributing author to Fun With Tubes. Ron Milliman is retired from Western Kentucky University where he was professor of marketing. His years of experience in that field and as a licensed ham, K8HSY, make him well qualified to write on this subject. Although the article is written from Ron's unique perspective of blindness the suggestions he gives make this article helpful to anyone just getting started in ham radio whether fully sighted, visually impaired, or totally blind. The floor is all yours Ron.
Introduction.It has come to my attention that some, perhaps even many, people who are interested in ham radio don't get their amateur radio license because they think the equipment is too expensive, or, in some cases, they may get their ham license, but never get on the air because they feel they can't afford the gear. So, I decided to write this paper to address these concerns by presenting ways of getting on the air even if your budget is quite limited.
Therefore, the objective of this paper is to present various alternatives for getting on the air for free or at a low-cost, even if you are working with an especially low budget. It is recognized that what is considered low-budget by one person might be very different for another person. Therefore, there is no attempt here to define low-budget. You will have to define that for yourself.
I also use the terms: "free," and "low-cost," which are also quite relative, but I will define them as follows. The term "free" here means free of any financial costs. Admittedly, if someone gives you something free of financial cost, there might be emotional or psychological costs or strings attached to the relationship, but this paper does not attempt to deal with those kinds of costs in any manner other than acknowledging that such costs might exist in certain situations and relationships.
In addition, it is also acknowledged that the term "low-cost" is also a very relative term; that is, what is low-cost to one person might be very expensive to another. Therefore, I am defining low-cost in this paper, somewhat arbitrarily, to mean equipment costing $750.00 or less. Given the fact that some ham transceivers and amplifiers cost several thousands of dollars, even on the used equipment market, I think an upper limit of $750 is reasonable.
Also, as a totally blind radio amateur, myself, I have made a distinction between equipment that is useable as opposed to accessible. In my mind, there is an important difference. In this paper a piece of equipment that is considered just useable has nothing about it that especially meets our needs as blind operators; that is, no useable beeps, and nothing talks. As a user, you are on your own to figure out how to make it work for you. This often requires considerable ingenuity and creativity. Most of the older equipment falls into this category, but unfortunately, much of the newer equipment does too. In contrast, I think of a piece of equipment that is accessible as one that comes with controls that either beep or talk when you activate them, thus, giving you feedback regarding what is happening when you press or turn the control. Admittedly, there are degrees of usability and accessibility, and I think of it as a continuum ranging to totally unusable to fully accessible. Most pieces of equipment fall along the middle of this continuum, and we can usually find some way of using most pieces of gear with some inventiveness. Later in this paper, I will attempt to present some of these methods for making equipment with very little usability much more usable and accessible. However, I must point out that what is considered usable, accessible or totally inaccessible varies from one blind person to another.
Over the years, there have been numerous makes and models of amateur radio equipment, including such brands as ACOM, Alpha, Ameritron, Central Electronics, Collins, Dentron, Drake, Elecraft, Galaxy, Globe, Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, Heathkit, Icom, Johnson, Kenwood, National, Swan, Ten Tec, and Yaesu, among a few others. None of these brands of radios had much of any accessibility built into them. We had to use our own ingenuity for operating these receivers, transmitters, and transceivers. Because of market forces, this list has gradually dwindled down to just a very few that are still in business. The main brands today are ACOM, Ameritron, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu. Among these, by far, the most accessible radios are the Kenwood models which will be discussed later in this paper. I do not mean to suggest the other brands are no good or not usable. Many of them are, and this too will be discussed later in this paper. However, I must make it very clear that in no manner can I possibly cover all makes & models over the last 60 years that some of us have gone to great lengths to make usable. I will focus on mostly solid-state equipment produced over the last 25 or so years that is especially usable with a minimum of adaptation or fairly accessible right out of the box.
Free Alternatives for Getting on the Air.Many of us were able to get on the air even though we didn't have any money to buy ham equipment thanks to the generosity of our Elmers and friends. My very first transmitter was a home brew rig loaned to me by one of my elmers. I was only 13 years old and had very little money. So, this is one way of getting on the air for free.
Later I scrounge up enough parts from discarded old radios and TV sets that I was able to build my own little home brew, 2-tube transmitter, which I used until I had enough money to purchase a higher powered, HeathKit transmitter. I gave the little home brew 2-tube transmitter that I built to a good friend of mine who had just passed his ham license exam. We were both kids, and he didn't have any money either. So, this is the second free way of getting on the air; that is, if you have a friend or Elmer that is generous enough to simply give you some equipment they no longer have any use for.
This can be one of the many benefits of joining a local amateur radio club. You can meet other hams. Some of them very likely will have some gear they are not using that they would be willing to loan to you or give you. It is important, however, to join a club with the objective of being a contributor, not just because you are looking for someone to loan or give you equipment. My local ham club helped me get up my antennas, but in turn, I contribute to the club by helping to get door prizes for our hamfest, participating in our field day activities, and anything else I can do to be an asset to the club.
Also, if you are legally blind, a really good organization you should become a member of is Handihams. It is an excellent resource for all kinds of information regarding ham radio that is especially relevant to legally blind hams or those seeking to become hams. This includes a program created to help you get equipment called the "Equipment Connection." To find out more about this program or if you have a request for equipment, contact the Handiham's Coordinator, Lucinda Moody either by email at Lucinda.Moody@allina.com or call her at 612-775-2290.
Remotely controlled stations are another really excellent way of getting on the air if you have a very limited budget. In this way, you can access numerous remotely controlled stations. You can listen and tune around. You can transmit providing you have requested and obtain permission from the station's owner. You can change frequencies, bands, and modes. You can even transmit using CW on those stations set-up for CW operation. You do not need a transceiver or antenna! All you need is either an Android phone or a PC and the remote control client software which is free.
The most popular of these remote station systems is called: RemoteHams. To use it requires you to have a valid radio amateur license and download and install its client software. Once you are validated and approved, you will have access to numerous stations around the globe. However, I must inform you that the software is not very accessible. It is useable, but not what I would consider as truly accessible. For instance, there are lots of things you cannot do as a screen reader user. You cannot adjust any of the slider controls or change the CW speed or adjust many of the other knobs, and controls that are adjustable by our fellow sighted hams.
To get started, you need to register with Remotehams. This is very easy to do. Go to the Remotehams' website's home page: http://www.remotehams.com and tab to the "sign up" link and hit enter on that link. It asks for the usual basic information, e.g. your email address, user's ID, password, etc. It is strongly recommended that you use your call sign for your user's ID. Then, shortly after you complete and submit your registration, you will receive a confirmation by email. You will need to follow the instructions in this confirmation to actually activate your account. Once you are registered, and have activated your account, you will have full access to the site.
This is another major benefit for joining Handihams. Handihams has two stations that can be accessed through the RemoteHams system. These stations are W0ZSW and W0EQO. More about the Handihams' remote stations can be found on their website at https://handiham.org/remotebase/#content.
Before closing this topic, I would be remiss if I didn't mention EchoLink and IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project). These are two ways of getting on the air free using your smart phone, PC, or inexpensively with a handheld transceiver.
Specifically, EchoLink is a computer-based Amateur Radio system distributed free of charge that allows radio amateurs to communicate with other amateur radio operators using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology on the Internet for at least part of the path between them.
It facilitates worldwide connections to be made between radio amateurs, greatly enhancing ham communications. in order for you to use the EchoLink system, it is necessary to validate your license. This is very easy and free to do.
I have used EchoLink with both my iPhone and PC. It is very accessible. I have held QSOs with other hams all over the United States and even some foreign countries using EchoLink and check into a local net regularly with it. For more information, and to get started, go to: http://www.echolink.org/
IRLP is another communication system that utilizes VOIP. With your handheld transceiver, for example, within radio range of a local repeater or node, you are able to use DTMF tone generators to initiate a node-to-node connection with any other available node in the world. Each node has a unique 4 digit node number in the range of 1000-8999. A real-time searchable list of all nodes worldwide (including their current status) is available anytime by viewing the IRLP Network at a Glance. There are thousands of IRLP repeaters and nodes around the globe. It is my understanding from other blind hams that the IRLP system is very blind user friendly and accessible. For more information, go to: http://www.irlp.net/.
Low-Cost Ways for Getting on the Air.Since I defined low-cost to be $750 or less, this pretty much eliminates all of the new HF radios. However, there are several low-cost VHF/UHF transceivers and handhelds that are usable and some very accessible that are well below $750. Therefore, I will start with a discussion of the VHF/UHF gear, followed by a discussion of the more usable/accessible HF gear. Again, I am not trying to be all-inclusive. There may be other radios, both VHF/UHF and HF that are usable with some extra effort, but the radios and equipment described below are all above average in their accessibility.
VHF/UHF HT's.Most of the handhelds or HT's covered here are standard FM or analog transceivers. However, some are also digital and operate in one of the popular digital modes, D-Star, DMR, or System Fusion. All of the digital radios also work in the analog FM mode. Before investing any money in one of the digital mode radios, you need to know which digital version is being used in your area. Some areas have none, some only have one, D-Star, DMR, or System Fusion, and some areas have more than one. For example, at my QTH on Lake Barkley in western Kentucky, only System Fusion is available to me. Currently, at my primary QTH in Bowling Green, only DMR is available. Since these are proprietary modes, unfortunately, the radios provide you with only one digital mode. You are forced to select one digital mode, or purchase a different radio for each digital mode you want to operate. This is not a good situation, but at present, that is just the way it is. On the positive side, these digital modes have made international communications possible on the VHF/UHF bands, and now, with a Technician amateur radio license, you can work the world using one of these digital modes. I use System Fusion and have talked to other hams in Australia and various countries in Europe, including England and Scotland. The QSO's were like the fellows were sitting next to me right here in my ham shack!
The least expensive and most popular among the VHF/UHF alternatives are the little handheld or HT, FM transceivers imported from China, such as the Baofeng (e.g. UV5R that sells for around $30), the Wouxun, Tyt, and Puxing handhelds. These radios talk only enough to be considered usable, but not enough to be considered really very accessible by themselves. Some of us have been successful at programming them ourselves, but it is quite challenging. I recommend using the RTSystems Programming software discussed below for programming these radios. Even my fully sighted ham friends find them almost impossible to program manually and use the programming software. Most of these little HT's cover both the 2 meter and 70 centimeter bands; though some even cover the 1.25 meter band as well. They typically run about 5 watts. While they come equipped with what is referred to as a rubber ducky antenna, these antennas are little more than dummy loads and are not very efficient and greatly limit the transmit/receive range of the transceiver. The range can be significantly enhanced by replacing the rubber duck antenna with an after-market whip such as the Nagoya NA-771 whip antenna, or even better yet, with something like a dual band J-Pole or other type of multi-band base antenna. This latter point applies to all of the HT's covered in this paper, not just to the Chinese radios.
As just stated, these Chinese handhelds are a real challenge to manually configure and program for anyone whether you are blind or fully sighted. This task can be made much, much easier by purchasing and using the RTSystems Programming software and cable created to be used with each particular radio. However, at this time, the RTSystems software is accessible only with the NVDA screen reading program and does not work with JAWS. A version of the RTSystems Programming software is available for nearly every radio that needs to have frequencies entered into it; the URL for RTSystems is: https://www.rtsystemsinc.com/category-s/2732.htm. It costs around $25 for each program, and is well worth the investment if you change frequencies and channels very much.
So, for less than $75 or $80, you can have a very workable VHF/UHF, analog/FM HT that will reach all of the repeaters in your area within 25 to 50 miles, depending on the antenna you use.
However, for a bit more money, you can get a much more accessible Kenwood transceiver that beeps and talks and is much more blind user friendly. This includes the Kenwood handheld models such as the TH-F6, TH-D72a, and the TH-D74a. RTSystems Programming software is also available for each of these HT's, making the programming a snap when used with the NVDA screen reading program.
The Kenwood TH-F6a is more money than the Chinese HT's, but it is a much better, very full-featured handheld. It is a compact tri-band H.T, covering the 144/220/440 ham bands. It has a dual receive, wideband receiver that tunes from Long wave through 1.3 GHz, including FM, SSB and CW, and it has 5 watts output on all bands. While it doesn't talk, it gives you superior feedback by beeping its many functions to provide you a very high level of accessibility by using the beeps for reference, and by counting the clicks of the main tuning knob. They can be found on the used market for around $200 or a little less. However, it is no longer in production.
It has been replaced in the Kenwood line with newer models: the TH-D72a and the TH-D74A. The TH-D72a is also a very full featured, 5 watt FM HT with 1000 memory channels. It is quite accessible through a combination of speech and beeps. It is a dual Band 144/440 Full Duplex analog FM radio with GPS and APRS. APRS stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System. APRS is totally visual and provides information such as GPS coordinates weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements, queries, and other telemetry, all visible from the display and not accessible to a blind user. Aside from this, it is a very nice little HT. On the used market, they can be purchased for around $225.
The TH-D74a is another very accessible Kenwood 5 watt HT. It is a 144/220/430 MHz TRIBANDER. It's packed with convenient features and the advantage of a digital transceiver with D-STAR, and APRS support. However, again, the APRS and GPS features are totally visual and not usable by a blind user. Here is a HT that speaks almost everything. It has speech accessibility built right into it right out of the box, no optional boards or modules to install. The menus, Memories, frequencies, and modes all speak. In addition, most of the D-Star features and functions speak too, except for the APRS and GPS features. Kenwood has done their usual great job on this outstanding little HT! Prices vary widely on the used equipment market for this transceiver, ranging from around $400 to $550, depending upon what all is included in the package.
D-Star is one quite popular digital mode as mentioned above. Another popular digital mode is DMR, and one of the most blind user friendly and accessible DMR HT's on the market is the Radioddity GD-77S. It is a dual band, 2m and 70cm handheld with up to 5 watts output, and operates in either DMR or analog (FM) modes. It speaks and gives you feedback for all menus and functions. In fact, it doesn't even have a visual display. They sell new for less than $80 on Amazon. It must be programmed, however, using your computer and the programming software. Unfortunately, the programming software is less than 100% accessible using a screen reader. It can be done, but with some difficulty.
Alternatively, there is another DMR HT that some blind hams have had success using. It is the TYT MD380. Is UHF only. Out of the box, it is not easy to use, but by uploading the Toolz software, it will provide CW feedback for many of the controls and functions. For example, the CW sends the name of the zone, and the talk group name. However, it doesn't do channel numbers. This is somewhat helpful if you know CW, but if you don't, this becomes an added problem, not a solution.
System Fusion is another digital mode and is a proprietary digital mode of Yaesu, and if System Fusion is the digital mode most popular in your area or for whatever reason, you just want a System Fusion radio, then, you are limited to one of the Yaesu models. The FT-1DR HT is a dual band (VHF/UHF) HT. It provides both analog FM and System Fusion modes, but it has no speech output. It is useable if you program it with the RTSystems Programming software. It is a good, solid handheld, and it can be found on the used market for around $225.
This is all I am going to cover concerning the HT's that are considered accessible/useable. Admittedly, there are others, but the ones covered here are the cream of the crop in terms of overall quality and cost. Now, I'll step up to some of the bigger, VHF/UHF transceivers that are in the mobile/base station category.
VHF/UHF Mobile and Base Radios.Without a doubt, again, the most blind user friendly, accessible mobile/base station, VHF/UHF transceivers are the Kenwood radios. Among the older, very accessible choices are the 2 meters only, TM-2530, TM-2550, and the TM-2570. These are, essentially, the same transceivers with the difference being the maximum power output levels they will run, as denoted by the 30, 50, and 70 designations in the ending of their model numbers. With the tone board and voice modules installed, they either beep or speak all of the functions and controls. They are very solid 2 meter, FM only transceivers. They have been out of production for several years, but can be found on the used market with prices ranging from around $100 to $125, depending on the condition, model and how it is equipped.
The TM-d700a is another very accessible, blind user friendly transceiver in the Kenwood line. It is a very full-featured radio that includes APRS. With the installation of the VS-3 optional VOICE SYNTHESIZER board, this transceiver beeps and/or speaks all of the functions and controls, except for the GPS/APRS features which are totally visual and shown on the display. It is a dual band, 144 - 430 MHz FM transceiver packed with features. This radio is out of production, but available on the used equipment market priced around $300, depending on condition and options.
The above radio was replaced in the Kenwood line by the TM-D710a, which is another dual band, 144 - 430 MHz FM transceiver packed with features similar to the TM-d700a. With the installation of the optional Kenwood VGS-1 Voice Guide and Storage unit, you can hear the vocal confirmation of frequency, and other functions and controls, and recording/playback of messages received by the transceiver. It is quite accessible, except for the GPS/APRS feature, which, again, is totally visual. This radio, too, has been discontinued, but available on the used equipment market for around $325, again, depending on condition and options.
To reiterate, both the TM-D700a and TM-D710a include the GPS/APRS feature, as described earlier in this paper, which is not useable by a blind ham.
For this reason, in my opinion, the best, fully accessible, dual band, 144 and 430 MHz, FM transceiver available for a blind ham is the TM-V71a which is in current production. With the optional voice module installed, it beeps or speaks all functions and controls and can be easily programmed manually; although programming software is available from RTSystems. It is often available on the used market for around $300. I, personally, have owned two of these transceivers and highly recommend them.
In terms of accessible digital mode mobile/base transceivers, the choices are extremely limited. With the installation of the Voice Guidance board, the Yaesu FTM-100dr is marginally accessible. It beeps and speaks just enough to allow a blind user to operate it once it is set-up. For instance, it will tell you if you are in VFO or channel mode, the channel number and frequency. When pressing the power button on the microphone, it goes from a low tone beep which tells you that you are in the highest power; one more press of the button gives you a higher pitch beep, and you can tell you are in low power, and one more press beeps to let you know you are in medium power. Similar beeps let you know if you are in automatic mode, narrow digital mode, wide digital mode, or in standard FM mode. These are dual band, UHF/VHF radios and can be purchased new for around $309 plus the added cost of the Voice Guidance board, which is an additional $30 or so. They can be found on the used equipment market for around $250, but most of the used units do not have the voice guidance board installed.
HF Transceivers.The Remote Hams option was discussed in a previous heading of this paper. However, another remote access system to be considered is called: "Remote Ham Radio" or "RHR." As they state on their website: "On the air from anywhere. Big stacks. Kilowatts of power. DX has never been closer." While RHR is very impressive, it is not free. There is an initial fee plus there is an additional charge per minute of usage. It is marginally useable with a screen reading program such as JAWS. For a blind op, it is quite challenging to learn; though, I think it can be accomplished. My impression is that the proprietors of this system are willing to work with blind hams to some extent. It is certainly an option worth checking out, especially if you live in an antenna restricted area or cannot afford the larger frontend cost of purchasing your own ham gear. For more information about this system, go to: http://www.remotehamradio.com/.
If you prefer owning your own gear that you can put your hands on, there are a large repertoire of HF transceivers that can be placed in the "useable" category, but again, there are very few that are fully accessible. I am going to cover only the ones that are the most useable and accessible. Admittedly, this is very subjective, and I am forced to employ a triage methodology in selecting which ones are to be covered. I am considering primarily their usability/accessibility but also their age, trying to limit those discussed to those produced within the last 20 or so years.
To begin with, there is little controversy over the fact that the Kenwood transceivers are, overall, the most accessible. The following Kenwood transceivers all have voice boards or modules available for them, and with the installation of the voice module, they are quite accessible.
The Kenwood TS570D or DG is an Older 100 watt SSB, CW, and AM transceiver and has an internal antenna tuner. It covers all of the HF bands and is very accessible with the installation of the VS3 voice board. It is a very well-built, solid transceiver. It has been out of production for a few years, but they can be found on the used equipment market for around $400.
Another good alternative is the TS-2000. While it has been in production for several years now, it Is still a solid work horse. It is an all-mode, covering all of the HF bands plus the 6, 2 meter, and 70cm bands. It has a built-in antenna tuner and keyer and provides 100 watts out put on all bands through 2 meters and 50 watts on the 440MHz band. They are quite accessible with the matching optional voice module and can be found on the used equipment market, e.g. hamfests, for around $750.
An even better alternative, if you are seeking an excellent HF transceiver with newer technology is the Kenwood TS-480SAT and TS-480HX. They are, basically, the same transceivers except the TS-480SAT is 100 watts and has a built-in antenna tuner while the TS-480HX is 200 watts and does not have a built-in antenna tuner. They are an all-mode transceiver covering all bands through 6 meters. They are especially small in size, but outstanding performers and are very accessible, again, with the installation of the optional matching voice module. These radios are still in current production and can be found on the used equipment market for as little as $600 if you shop around a bit.
My personal favorite of all the HF transceivers on the market is the Kenwood TS-590s and TS-590sg. The 590s was replaced with the 590sg, but they are very similar transceivers. These are the absolute most accessible HF transceivers on the market. They provide all modes with up to 100 watts power output on all bands 160 - 6 meters. With the optional VGS-1 'Voice Guide and Storage Unit', this transceiver speaks or beeps every button, control, and menu selection and is a dream to operate. If you shop around, they can be picked up on the used equipment market for as little as $700-$750.
I most highly recommend the Kenwood line of transceivers because of their outstanding accessibility and because Kenwood has made an effort to make their radios accessible to blind ops. In contrast, the other major manufacturers have exhibited very little or no interest in providing equipment that is blind user friendly.
All of the following transceivers are useable with some extra effort, but none of them are particularly accessible by themselves. However, they all can be made much more blind user friendly with the inclusion of the HamPod or the Universal QSYer and/or by using the JJRadio software or one of the other adaptations described in detail below under the heading: "Accessories and Computer Programs that Enhance Accessibility."
Among the other transceivers that are useable is the Yaesu Model FT-450d. This transceiver is an entry level radio, covering all bands from 160 meters through 6 meters. It is a feature-packed transceiver for its price. However, it provides very limited accessibility compared to any of the Kenwoods mentioned above, especially the TS-480 or TS-590 radios. The FT-450d has 100 watts output on all bands and has a built-in antenna tuner and provides onboard speech for frequency, mode, S meter readout and is a fairly easy transceiver to operate. It is often found on the used equipment market for around $500 and is a good value transceiver.
Another fairly easy to operate, smaller HF transceiver is the Icom IC-718. This is an inexpensive radio packed with features for the money, but it provides very limited accessibility with the addition of the optional UT-102 Voice Synthesizer which announces only the frequency and mode. I place this transceiver in the useable, but not very accessible category. However, Most of the controls are manual and there is very little menu operation. These radios can be found on the used equipment market, e.g. hamfests, for $400 or less, but seldom do they have the UT-102 speech synthesizer installed, and it would need to be purchased separately and installed.
Another useable, but not all that accessible, transceiver is the Icom IC756pro III. It includes a Built in Antenna Tuner and runs 100 watts. Here again, there is very limited speech accessibility since only frequency, mode and S meter are spoken. However, most of the controls are single function and once the menu settings are selected, it is pretty much set and forget. A blind friend of mine reported that he successfully operated this rig on several occasions at his club's station with just a quick review of the various buttons and controls. He reported that it has an outstanding receiver and the transmitter's audio is also excellent. On the used equipment market they can be purchased for under $750.
The next transceiver worth mentioning is the Icom IC-706 Mark 2G. It is another solid radio. Again, I would place this transceiver in the quite useable, but not especially accessible category. With the optional voice module, the UT102, installed, sited assistance is needed only to initially set it up; after which it can be operated quite easily by memorizing the controls and buttons or by using a cheat sheet. One nice advantage of this radio is that it covers all of the HF bands plus both the 2M and 70CM bands. In addition, it provides direct frequency entry from the keypad and a very straight forward interface makes it usable by a blind person, again, with a bit of button and control memorization or the use of a cheat sheet to refer to. These radios can be found on the used market for $400 or sometimes even less.
All of the Elecraft transceivers are quite accessible with beeps and CW feedback; though there are no voice modules available for the Elecraft line of radios. The Elecraft KX2 is available as a QRP transceiver, or it can be kicked up to run 100 watts with the addition of the higher powered finals. These are very excellent radios packed with features. The KX2 is a pocket-sized SSB/CW/Data, 9-band, 12 watt transceiver for portable, SOTA, hand- held, mobile, and home use. State-of-the-art design provides the features of a desktop radio in an extremely small, go-anywhere size. Also ideal for first-time HF operators on a budget. It covers 80-10 meters (+RX coverage of SWL bands and 160 m). It also operates: SSB/CW/DATA/AM/FM modes. It runs 12 W PEP but can be kicked up to 100 watts with the KXPA100 amp. This is a Software-defined radio (SDR) architecture for versatility. It also operates in data modes (PSK31/PSK63/RTTY) with or without a PC. These transceivers can be found on the used equipment market for $500 without the amplifier. They can be made even more accessible by using the QSYer, JJ Software, or the Ham-Pod described below.
There are other, mostly older transceivers, that could be included here, but I am drawing the line at this point. This article has already become considerably longer than I wanted it to be when I started. Now, I need to cover some of the extremely useful adaptations available that will greatly enhance most any of the above described HF radios.
Accessories and Computer Programs that Enhance Accessibility.The following devices and computer programs can be used to greatly improve the usability and accessibility of many transceivers that, otherwise, would be extremely difficult to operate by a blind op. Unfortunately, some of these adaptations are no longer being produced, but can occasionally be found on the used equipment market, e.g. eBay, eHams classifieds, QTH classifieds, and hamfests.
Here is one of the best devices available for making your gear more accessible. It is called the HamPod. It is a device to enable blind and visually impaired operators to be able to use their equipment almost as well as a fully sighted user! Even better, you get all this accessibility without the need for a personal computer. The HAMPod series of Amateur Radio station accessories are stand-alone, micro-processor based text-to-speech devices designed to provide speech output and accessibility to common station equipment such as transceivers, antenna controllers and rotor controllers, SWR/Power meters and other equipment capable of serial data exchange. Each HamPod has two independent serial ports and can be configured to work with a separate device on each port. This allows for almost any combination of supported equipment to be accessed from a single HamPod. Combinations such as an ICOM/ICOM, ICOM/Kenwood, Elecraft/Kenwood, or include other device combinations like a transceiver/rotor, rotor/meter, or other custom configurations are possible. Several radio models are supported within each manufacturer.
The current price is $295 plus shipping. For a more complete description and listing of the transceivers and devices supported by the HamPod, go to the HamPod website: http://www.hampod.com/
Next is a software accessibility solution developed by a blind programmer for blind radio amateurs. It is called the JJRadio Rig Control Program. JJRadio is a Windows program that allows you to control and monitor your Kenwood TS-2000, or TS-590, your Elecraft K3, Icom IC-9100, or your Flex 6300. Version, 4.3.3, adds support for the IC-9100. Version, 4.3.5, adds support for the TS-590SG. Those are the transceivers currently supported by this software. Note: support for the Flex 6300 software defined radio will support the Flex 6000 series radios, but with only two slices. The program allows control of frequency, mode, and many other features of these transceivers, in addition to providing s-meter, SWR and other readouts. Version 4.4.1 adds support for telnet DX clusters. The current version is 4.4.5 and works with Windows 7 and above. It is a completely free program developed by Jim Shaffer. For more information, go to: http://pages.suddenlink.net/jjsha/JJRadioReadme.htm
Another adaptive device that has proven to be extremely useful in making radios much more accessible is the Universal QSYer. This keyboard unit was designed by John Hansen, W2FS at Coastal ChipWorks (http://www.qsyer.com/). The Universal QSYer allows users of virtually all ICOM radios, as well as the Yaesu FT-817, FT-857, FT-897, FT857 radios and even the older Kenwood TS-440 radio to directly enter frequencies and perform a range of other functions. This Universal QSYer Keypad is especially useful to blind ops. In addition to being able to enter frequencies, it knows which mode to switch the radio to. If you enter a frequency in the SSB portion of the 20 meter band, it knows to switch the radio to USB. If you enter a frequency in the SSB portion of the 40 meter band, it knows to switch to LSB. For the CW band segments, it automatically switches to CW. Enter a 2 meter repeater frequency, it switches to FM. When operating with an ICOM or Kenwood radio, it can immediately select any numbered memory in your radio. To go to memory number 15, for example, you simply enter A15. (Note: this feature is not available on the Yaesu models because of the way Yaesu has designed its computer control system.) It also allows you to easily switch between the two VFOs on most radios. Simple keystrokes also allow you to switch between the VFO and memory modes. When operating with a Yaesu radio, you can change the repeater shift from the keypad, or step through the various modes on the radio. Switching the keypad between radios is also quite simple.
The Universal QSYer is available in a wired and tested version for $90 plus shipping anywhere in the World. It is also available as a complete kit for around $55. The Universal QSYer can be ordered from John Hansen, 49 Maple Avenue, Fredonia, NY 14063. John Hansen, W2FS at Coastal ChipWorks (http://www.qsyer.com/).
There are some other devices that blind hams have found extremely useful that are no longer being produced and can be found occasionally on the used equipment market. This includes devices such as the TW-1 HF and TW-2 VHF SWR/Power meters once produced by LDG but has been out of production for many years; these units provide spoken feedback and can very rarely be found for around $100 on the used equipment market, e.g. eBay, hamfests, etc. The ATOM is another device that gave audible tone feedback which was useful for determining if your transceiver was putting out power and when tuning up your rig or amplifier. These devices are also rare to find, but usually sell on the used market for around $50.
Here is a program called AccessibleDigipan for working the PSK31 mode making it accessible to Blind Hams. This is another completely free program developed by blind hams for blind hams. You can now operate PSK31 in a powerful and accessible application with AccessibleDigipan! Using the JAWS screen reader together with AccessibleDigiPan, blind hams can now finally participate in this wonderful mode of amateur radio communications. For more information including the link to download the program and all of the related files, go to: http://accessibledigipan.org/
A Final Note.The objective of this paper was to present to you numerous alternatives for getting on the air with little or no money. All of the transceivers and related devices and programs covered can be obtained for $750 or less, and most of them can be found for considerably less than this amount. Admittedly, there are useable radios that were not included such as the TS-440 which is an excellent old radio and many of us have used them with ease, but they are very old, and most of them in their old age have developed some problems, and I don't want to recommend a bunch of old radios that might be very inexpensive to purchase, but have various problems that you just don't need.
So, I have invested considerable time and effort to research and present the best, most useable/accessible transceivers and devices and programs available. Out of all the transceivers covered, the best of the lot are the Kenwood transceivers for being the most accessible with their optional voice modules. The other radios are useable and can be made even more accessible with adaptations such as the HamPod, JJRadio, or the Universal QSYer.
73 de K8HSY
Licensed Radio Amateur since 1957, Extra Class License Holder.
Dr. Ronald E. Milliman, Retired Professor of Marketing & Business Consultant.