What Is An Accessible Radio?

Blind radio hams (sometimes known as White Stick Operators) often discuss what is an accessible radio. It is great to have radios like the Kenwood TS-590SG with the additional voice chip. Which is a welcome addition to the blind hams’ shack. If that ham has an interest in HF of course. There is so much going on on UHF and VHF we are really spoilt for choice now-a-days. Having a fragmented choice of DMR, C4FM, D-Star and AllStar are just a few to mention.

There have been development of open source projects that have added voice prompts which started with the Open GD-77 Project. There is hope that such projects spread out and voice prompts are considered a necessity for an inclusive design. We are eager to see how the open RTX project develops providing us with even more choice.

But this post is about an option that very few blind hams use or even know about. The HamPod was a great product and loved by its users. The HamPod used the ability to control a radio, not from the front panel but from a computer aided transceiver (CAT) interface. Usually a socket on the back panel. There are many commonly used programs that take advantage of this CAT interface behind the scenes. Commonly known as the back end. An open source project called “HamLib” provides an interactive console program called rigctl (Rig Control). Therefore, by using this program we can control a wider range of radios than those with speech support as long as the manufacturer provides a CAT interface and of course, the extent of that control is designed and implemented by the manufacturer. In addition, firmware updates might improve or even extend the capabilities of the CAT interface.

There is another advantage to the blind ham using the CAT interface. That is that of continuity. With rigctl running and I press the letter ‘f’ as a lower case letter. Irrespective of the radio that is connected the response is the same. The current frequency is returned and spoken by the blind ham’s favourite screen reader. The interface is not pretty with many colours. It is a simple command line interface and so easy to use without strange things happening on different parts of the screen. It just sits at the rig command prompt waiting to receive a setting or to give a setting at the users request.

Hamlib is available on several platforms and actively being updated to include new radios and rotators. I believe some scanners are supported too but that would need checking by those interested in such things. As the ham has more of a need for a computer in the shack because of new satellites, Weak Signal applications etc. manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of the serial protocol with enhanced serial ports to respond with agility to demanding applications. All this new found use of CAT control is an advantage to the blind ham. In the following posts I will show examples of what can be done as I work with my new Yaesu FT-991A which is widely considered as an inaccessible radio with a touch screen.

If in the future hamlib doesn’t provide all the control I need. Yaesu have published the CAT command sets. So I could develop my own program should I choose to do so.

The next post will be a demonstration of rigctl in action. Watch this space.

If I have wetted your appetite and you want to get hamlib immediately, here’s a good starting point:

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