NCIP Staff (1994)
The following is a description of products that incorporate a variety of features to
facilitate access to computers for individuals with visual impairments. It also includes
descriptions of specific products to illustrate the technology. Inclusion of a product's
name does not imply endorsement of that product and descriptions of products are supplied
by the manufacturers and are not evaluations of the products. Combination Access refers to
those products that offer access to computer technology using a combination of features,
incorporating more than one modality, i.e., braille or other tactile access with speech or
magnification. Sometimes these products are referred to as "hybrids." The
following is a description of some of these products in order to illustrate some of the
[Notetakers | Other
The most common combination of modalities in technology products today is braille
input with speech output. The advantage of this combination is that it enables the user to
input Braille directly and monitor the input quickly through speech. Products such as
Personal Touch, Braille 'n' Speak, BrailleMate and Mountbatten Brailler have these
features. Many of these products are referred to as notetakers or personal data assistants
because they are portable (light and battery operated) and useful in classroom or meeting
situations. The student can input in braille during class, monitor the Braille through
speech, and print out the edited text in braille or text later. Some of these products
offer special features such as talking calculators and calendars and telephone
directories. Others have built-in refreshable Braille displays for monitoring and editing
in Braille as well. Other products, such as Type 'n' Speak, offer the standard
"QWERTY" keyboard for text inputting rather than Braille.
- Braille Lite (Blazie Engineering)
Personal data assistant with speech output and a refreshable braille display. Display is
18 cells of 8-dot braille and is available in many languages. With a disk drive accessory,
can read any information available on an IBM disk. 8-1/4" x 5" x 1-3/4".
Weighs about 2 lbs.
- BrailleMate2 and BrailleMate 2+2 (Telesensory)
Organizes, stores and retrieves information. Features an 8-dot braille cell and
built-in speech synthesizer. Text can be entered in either Grade 1 or Grade 2 Braille.
Grade 2 Braille is automatically converted to standard text for speech and print output.
Special features included.
- Braille 'n Speak (Blazie Engineering)
Can be used as a word processor, telephone directory, appointment calendar and clock.
Built-in translator converts Grade 2 braille to print output. 800 pages of memory,
spell-checker, comes in several languages. 8"x 5" x 1-1/4". Weighs about 2
- Eureka A4 (Integrated Assistive Technologies)
Portable notetaker with a number of other functions including database and music composer.
Auxiliary devices are also available including hand scanner and voltmeter. Includes
built-in speech, disk drive, modem, and Braille keypad.
- INKA (Baum, USA)
Has standard "QWERTY" keyboard with braille dots on specific keys for
orientation. Braille display is in 8-dot cells. 22.2" x 9.8" x 2.8". Weighs
- Keynote Companion (HumanWare)
Palm-sized, portable, talking notebook. Uses Keynote Gold speech synthesizer and Keynote
Personal Productivity software.
- Mountbatten Brailler (HumanWare, Inc.)
This device can be used as a notetaker, Brailler printer, or electronic Braille writer.
Includes optional forward and reverse translation. Unit can be powered by a battery or by
- Type 'n Speak (Blazie Engineering)
Personal data assistant for people who prefer a "QWERTY" keyboard. Voice
synthesis. Contains 720K Bytes of memory and available in many languages. 12" x
6" x 1-1/2". Weighs about 2 lbs.
Other Combination Products
Other products have features designed to address the problem a user with visual impairment
may have with the spatial arrangement of objects on the screen or of technology itself.
The products David and DM-80/FM, both by BAUM, have a Braille "mouse" which
allows for the immediate positioning of the Braille display at any point on the computer
screen by tracking the user's finger position above the display. Products, such as
MasterTOUCH or the SKERF-PAD are combining speech synthesis to tactile arrays which allow
access to both the information and spatial arrangement of information on the screen. In
using these products, screen is read by a speech synthesizer and controlled by the user
running the tip of a finger along raised guidelines on a tablet or pad. Optacon II uses
tactile access in combination with optical character recognition. The reading material is
scanned and the letters felt on a tactile array. Powerama is an assistive technology for
users with low vision who want the additional feature of voice output. It is expected that
more innovative combination products will be developed to meet the needs of users with
visual impairments and to offer better access to computer technology.
- David (Baum, USA)
A notebook size personal computer incorporating all access technologies, including tactile
Braille display, Braille keyboard, and synthetic speech. Features include Optical Sensor
Cursor Routing that monitors the user's hand position above the Braille display and may
automatically position the cursor at the desired cell. Comes with an integrated desktop
environment, designed for users who are visually impaired, which offers functions like
text editing, text retrieval, database, mailmerge, filer, communications, calculators,
clock, calendar, etc. David's Braille translation software will translate screen contents
or entire files into Grade 2 Braille. Has 6 Megabyte RAM, a 80 Meg hard disk, 1.44 Meg
diskette drive, and serial and parallel port interfaces. David's refreshable Braille
display is composed of 40 8-dot Braille cells. Has standard Braille keyboard with
additional navigation keys, function keys, and mode switches. 13"x 10" x
2.6". Weighs 7.9 lbs. Price: $1500.
- DM-80/FM (Baum)
A computer access system that includes a Braille display, Braille keyboard, synthetic
speech, and Optical Sensor Cursor Routing that allow immediate positioning of the Braille
display at any point of the computer screen, and perform functions, such as cursor
routing, fast reading mode, data and attribute information retrieval, by tracking the
user's finger position above the Braille display. The Braille keyboard has built-in and
user definable functions. Braille display "windows" located beneath the reading
line allow for fast access to reference or status information while working with databases
or spreadsheets. Braille display features 80 Braille cells. Speech synthesis offers a
choice of four languages. Braille manual. Price: $15,000.
- inTOUCH (TeleSensory, Inc.)
For Macintosh. A software that works with the Optacon II to provide tactile access and
large print access to the Macintosh computer. As the mouse is moved, inTOUCH shows the
area of the screen around the cursor on the Optacon display. Features are set from the
keyboard. Other features include: a camera mode that allows the user to switch from the
camera to the computer; a command that stretches the image to increase legibility; a
screen position command that raises a couple of pins on the Optacon to indicate position
of the cursor on the screen. Price: $400.
- MasterTOUCH (HumanWare)
For IBM PCs and compatibles. Use with Keynote GOLD speech synthesizer as an interactive
tactile computer screen driven by MasterTOUCH screen reading software. The touch-sensitive
surface includes raised lines for controlling reading. The tablet features two modes:
Training and Tone modes, and cursor routing to the last place touched on the tablet.
- Optacon II (TeleSensory, Inc.)
Optacon II is a portable tactile reading system that gives the user direct access to
printed material. A handheld camera (about the size of a cigarette lighter) is scanned
across the printed page. The retina of that camera perceives the contrast between the
light page and dark print and sends the image to a vibrating tactile array. The user rests
an index finger on the tactile array and is able to feel the letters move underneath the
fingers. The entire unit is approximately the size of a portable cassette recorder. The
Optacon II can be used to read a computer screen as well as printed material. Price:
- Optacon PC (TeleSensory, Inc.)
For IBM PCs and compatibles. Optacon PC is a hardware and software accessory for the
Optacon II to provide tactile acess to the screen of IBM PCs or PS/2 and compatibles. The
Optacon PC uses a mouse to move around the screen and select the area to be displayed on
the Optacon. The user may switch between the Optacon camera for reading and the Optacon PC
for accessing the computer screen. Price: $400.
- Powerama (Syntha-Voice Computers, Inc.)
For IBM PCs, PS/2s and compatibles. The features of screen enlargement and voice output
work together, so that text is displayed and read aloud simultaneously. Various viewing
features are provided. A scaled down version is available for IBM XTs. Price: $800.
- Skerf-Pad (Love Electronics)
For IBM PCs and compatibles. A voice output screen access system. The user touches a pad,
and the corresponding area of the computer screen is read back by the speech synthesizer.
The pad has guidelines for moving across lines of text on the computer screen. Provides
voice output access to any standard application software. Commands switches are included
to control speed, determine and change text cursor location, and affect how much is read.
Price includes touch pad, tactile overlay, and software. Speech synthesizer not included.
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