I have been to plenty of Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conferences, and this year has all the usual stuff (though gadgets are getting smaller every year!) As I walked the exhibit halls, I was haunted by the recent New York TImes Sunday Magazine article, Listening to Braille, where the author bemoans the decline of braille teaching in the classroom, which she says is contributing to higher illiteracy rates among the blind.
I kept an eye out for cool new Braille products, hoping to find the spark that would re-energize braille again.
For starers, I liked the sleek design of the Next Generation Perkins Brailler — a typewriter that outputs in braille instead of alpha-numeric. Perkins also just came out with a product called Top Braille. it’s a portable reader with a braille button on top. A user slides the device across printed text, and “feels” the braille button translating the words to them, one by one, at whatever speed is desired. It costs $1,950.
HumanWare, a maker of many braille products, has come out with a new, incredibly light braille notetaker called BrailleNote Apex. The sales rep, who is blind and wore one around his waist, rattled off everything this baby could do.
Running on Windows CE 6, it includes a word processor, book reader — for reading Braille or audio, web browser, e-mail, media player, streaming audio — for listening to Internet radio, instant messaging, and more.
I also had some fun with HumanWare’s Mountbatten Braille writer, in wacky colors like blue and yellow. It’s like a kiddie version of the Perkins Brailler, and is designed to “introduce students to Braille literacy in a fun and inclusive manner.”
With the Mountbatten writer, kids use one of six light-weight keys in various combinations to create braille documents. At the same time, the device speaks the words out loud to reinforce learning.
Since I don’t know an iota of braille, I used the connecting QWERTY keyboard to type a braille Valentine’s message on ivory stationery for my fiancee. I hope he likes it!