Saturday, October 4

Next generation Braille Writer

Greetings. I received the following article from a friend regarding a possible new generation for the Perkins Brailler. This sounds like a great improvement on the older model which is loud, heavy, and just needs some overhalls and enhancements. I hope that these new Braillers really sell a lot and that they appear next year at the various consumer conventions for people to check out. I also hope the price comes down. I understand newer, better, and so forth, but doesn't newer also mean cheaper? Or, cheaper than the price given for this new model anyway? Ah well, it's good to have a second generation of the Brailler. And it looks like a lot of time an effort went into designing this model, along with input from the people that will actually be using it. I remember hearing a Blind Cool Tech podcast several years ago where Larry Skutchan of APH was talking with Brian Charleson of the Carroll Center for the Blind about what improvements might happen to a newer Brailler. Perhaps that's where some of the enhancements came from for this model. Anyway, here's the article. Enjoy.

A lighter touch
Perkins School hopes compact Braille machine brings renewed interest
By Dave Copeland, Globe Correspondent | October 3, 2008

Until now, Kim Charlson has kept a Perkins Brailler in almost every room in her house. The 10-pound, breadbox-size machine acts as a notepad for people like Charlson, 51,who is legally blind.

"The one in the kitchen gets the biggest workout," she said. "You only have to make one batch of chili where you mistake fruit cocktail for kidney beans before you figure you better start using it to make labels for everything."

The machine resembles an eight-key typewriter that creates six-dot characters, with a place to load paper in the back.

But after today, Charlson may no longer need several Braillers. This morning, Perkins Products, a division of the nonprofit Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, is set to release the next generation of the machine, the first major overhaul of the Perkins Brailler since it was introduced 57 years ago. The new model is 25 percent lighter than its predecessor and more compact, allowing it to better fit on school desks and in workspaces. It is also less expensive - $650 compared with $690.

"I remember being a kid, learning Braille, and I'd be carrying this big, bulky thing around, banging into walls," said Charlson, who is director of the Braille & Talking Book Library, another division of the Perkins School.

Braille literacy rates among the 55,000 legally blind school-age children in the United States hover at about 12 percent, down from 50 percent in 1960. While much of the drop-off is attributed to a lack of qualified instructors in public school systems, many who work with the blind say a simpler way for students to write in Braille could help boost that number.

"We're hoping the ease of use and more modern packaging will reinvigorate excitement," said David Morgan, general manager of Perkins Products, which helps the school offset its fund-raising commitments by selling and repairing Braillers, as well as offering training on the machines.

On Tuesday, Morgan, who is not blind, strolled through the company's workshop, where a team of engineers was testing the first batch of the new Braillers. The devices were to be shipped to Louisville, Ky., for the official unveiling with Perkins's partner on the project, American Printing House for the Blind. The engineers - four of whom are from India and will oversee mass production of the machines at Worth Trust, Perkins's assembly company in India - hunkered over the machines they assembled by hand. Over the soft click-clack of the machines, Morgan pointed out the integrated handle and the paper tray that make reading back what a user has just written easier. Also, it is the first such machine that allows users to erase characters.

"This really is the pen and paper for the blind," he said.

Charlson added, "I have all the latest technology and gadgets in my office, but if you look on my desk, front and center, right next to the phone, is my Brailler."

Since the first Perkins Brailler rolled out in 1951, more than 330,000 have been sold in 170 countries, including 10,000 last year. Morgan noted many users have had their machines for decades. "Some of these people have been using the same Brailler for 30 or 40 years. You'd have to pry them out of their hands," he said.

Not so for Judi Cannon, who, like Charlson, works at the Braille & Talking Book Library and was part of the focus group that helped Perkins Products come up with the new design. Cannon, 57, said she was excited about using the upgraded machine.

"I've been advocating for this for years," Cannon said as she took notes on a new, raspberry-red Brailler with her service dog, Almond, curled at her feet.

"The old one, you'd carry it around and your arm would get longer," she said. "But this one is just like carrying a briefcase."

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

1 comment:

  1. Laura1:51 PM

    Hi Wayne, my name is Laura and I am the Director of Marketing at Perkins Products who makes the Perkins Brailler. I just wanted to answer your question... yes, the new Next Generation Brailler is cheaper - by $40. The Classic Brailler costs $690 and the Next Generation Brailler costs $650. Thanks for your comments.