by Cheree Heppe

I recently learned of the availability of the Braille Sense, newly marketed in the United States. It is a product collaboration between Human Information Service, Sony and other groups in South Korea. GW Micro has been marketing the Braille Sense in the U.S.

The Disability Services Office at the University of Buffalo got a Braille Sense for a short time for demonstration purposes. A demonstration scheduled for May 11 was to be for agencies and rehabilitation counselors, with no consumers directly invited or notified. However, when I contacted the Disability Services Office, Andy Borst agreed to take time to show me and another lady the Braille Sense on May 13.

So I took my guide dog and traveled from Rochester to Buffalo, arriving at the university mid-morning. Andy Borst met me at the bus stop in front of the building to escort me to the office. Unfortunately, the other lady decided not to come. Another consumer, a college student who could have benefitted from such a demonstration, was discouraged from traveling to see the new device.

The Braille Sense struck me as extremely intuitive to operate. It worked like a braille version of plug-and-play without a lot of tweaking needed. The keyboard differs from a Perkins brailler's in that it is curved, presumably as an ergonomic adjunct. There are four braille keys on either side of the space bar. The outermost keys act as function keys; controls and commands involve chording keys and a space bar, like playing chords on a musical keyboard. Above the braille display area and below the keys and space bar are four function keys, labeled one through four from left to right. The braille display has routing buttons along its upper edge. Speech output may be turned off when utilizing the braille, or left on to operate simultaneously. Although I do not consider myself an advanced computer user, I began accessing the Braille Sense's features immediately by trying the keys. Jeremy, a GW Micro staff member, coached me via the speaker phone in Borst's office.

The braille output read cleanly and responded seamlessly. Unlike the BrailleNote, there are no large thumb buttons on the near edge of the Braille Sense. This meant that while carrying the Braille Sense, I could not trigger something inadvertently by leaning on the thumb buttons. In place of those buttons, the Braille Sense has recessed controls governing a Daisy recorder/player along its front edge. This seemed very functional, although I focused mainly on the braille interface and did not test it.

The speech was tolerable to listen to. The Braille Sense used synthesized speech, while I prefer the human-sounding digital voices. Currently, the Braille Sense can use only its onboard speech engine.

The Braille Sense weighed less and seemed smaller than the BrailleNote and the PACMate. I have seen the BrailleNote via a blind user, as well as the PACMate and the BrailleNote PK. I disliked the PACMate, and wasn't pleased with the interface required through Freedom Scientific.

The Braille Sense can multi-task between a maximum of seven separate, open applications. Beyond smooth functionality and user-friendliness, the cost of this notetaker is lower than the full-sized BrailleNote and PACMate, and offers a 32-cell braille display not available on the PK.

It would require more in-depth exposure to cement my impressions from my brief time with it. However, as of now, the Braille Sense would be the notetaker I would consider when replacing the speech-only notetaker I currently use. Thanks to Jeremy at GW Micro and Andy Borst for their time and resources demonstrating this device.

For more information about the Braille Sense, contact GW Micro at (260) 489-3671.

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