D-STAR for Blind
and Vision-Impaired Hams

 WB9RSQ and AE7PD

 

   This article describes how blind and vision-impaired hams can use D-STAR, the amateur radio digital voice mode.

   WB9RSQ is a blind ham who uses D-STAR with an Icom IC-9100 and a Kenwood TH-D74A handheld.

   This article describes D-STAR operation using a transceiver without connecting it to a computer. A separate article describes how WB9RSQ sometimes also uses the Icom RS-BA1 rig control program and a screen reader for D-STAR operation.

   WB9RSQ reviews the accessibility of the Kenwood TH-D74A in a separate article.

D-STAR Radio Accessibility

   WB9RSQ bypasses screen-dependent controls on the radio by programming settings in the channel memories. To step through the channels you can use the channel knob or up/down keys on a microphone.

   WB9RSQ programs two easy-to-find reference points—the Call channel and a weather station in Channel 1. Pressing the Call button on the radio selects the Call channel, and the weather report audio is easy to recognize as you "tune" across it with the channel knob.

   He programs the Call channel for Talk, with CQCQCQ in the UR field. Channels 2 and above are for analog tansmissions, including the simplex call frequency and local repeaters. When squelch is open, single sideband channels can also serve as markers.

   His D-STAR channels are below the Call channel (counter-clockwise on the dial). Channels 99, 98, and 97 are the repeater command channels—Unlink, Echo, and Information. Channels 96 and lower set up links to reflectors and repeaters.

Operating Examples

Example 1:  Connect to the local repeater.

   Select Channel 99 and listen. If there is no activity, press PTT for about one second and listen for the "System unlinked" message.

   Press the Call button, listen, and press the PTT button to talk.

Example 2:  Use Reflector 19C via the local repeater gateway.

   Select Channel 99 and listen. If there is no activity, press PTT for about one second and listen for the "System unlinked" message.

   Turn the knob down 3 channels to 96 (Reflector 19C). Press PTT briefly to link to it. Press the Call button, listen, and press PTT to talk.

   After signing off use Channel 99 to unlink the reflector from the local repeater.

IC-9100 Memories

   In the IC-9100 there is a group of 106 channel memories for each "frequency band"—HF, VHF, UHF, and 1.2 GHz. In each of these four bands there are six channel memories for band edge scan-limits between the Call channel and Channel 99. Since jumping past them is necessary to reach Channel 99, WB9RSQ uses a local 2 meter CW beacon as a separator just before the control channels.

   He uses similar layouts for the HF, VHF, and UHF frequency bands. As there are no repeaters or reflectors on HF, no D-STAR control channels are required, but a series of frequencies is used for testing and experimental D-STAR communication on 6 meters down to 75 meters.

Software for Programming Radio Channels

   There are several choices of programming software that is accessible with screen magnification and also with a screen reader:

• Chirp is a free program that edits channel memories. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. A list of supported radios is here.

   An article about Chirp accessibility is here. On Windows, screen reader users can copy radio data from Chirp into an Excel spreadsheet for editing. Chirp for Linux works well with the Orca screen reader. The Mac VoiceOver reader does not work with Chirp.

• Icom publishes Windows-based cloning software for some radios. WB9RSQ has used the IC-9100 cloning software with a screen reader (1) by exporting data from the Icom program as a csv file to an Excel spreadsheet, or (2) editing the comma-separated-values file directly with a text editor. It's also possible for advanced screen reader users to make minor changes directly with the cloning software.

RT Systems programming software runs on Windows systems. A list of supported D-STAR radios is here, and a list of links to video tutorials is here. The D-STAR Calculator dialog windows provide an intuitive user interface and menus of repeaters and reflectors organized by location.

   The accessibility of RT Systems software with a magnifier and with the free NVDA screen reader is discussed in a separate article.

Call-Sign Routing

   Call sign routing enables you to address transmissions using individual ham call signs. Handheld and mobile D-STAR radios have a one-touch button [RX-CS] to capture and use routing information when you receive a call-sign routed transmission.

   On the IC-9100 this receive-function button is located in a sub-menu and is not accessible, but you can initiate routing by programming a call-sign in the UR field of a channel.

More Information

HamPod Icom Reader firmware now supports D-STAR mode for the IC-7100, IC-7300, and IC-9100 models.

Operating D-STAR by Gary Pearce, KN4AQ.
The Newbies Guide to D-STAR by Susan Mackay, VK3ANZ.
D-STAR for Dummies by Charles Johnson, III, W8KWA.

Summary

   D-STAR radios are accessible for blind and vision-impaired hams. WB9RSQ bypasses screen-dependent controls on the radio by using channel memories. Accessible radio programming software is available.

Author Information

   Chris Zenchenko, WB9RSQ, and Peter DeNeef, AE7PD, are amateur radio operators in the U.S.
Email:  HamRadioAndVision "at" gmail "dot" com.

rev. 5/26/2017

D-Star on DV-Dongle for Low-Vision Hams

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