There’s nothing new about blind people using machines to read print materials. In fact, we’ve been doing so in one form or another for the better part of the last 30 years, first with devices like the Optacon, and later with computers and flat-bed scanners. Recently, high-end cell phones with their cameras and increased computing power have given us a way to take our print-reading machines with us wherever we go, leaving our computers and scanners at home. But despite technological advances, it still takes some work, time, and technical skill to get a device to read print, and many people lack the know-how or the patience.
ABISee, of Acton, Mass., has come up with an innovative print-reading solution: their latest product, the Eye-Pal SOLO, priced at $2,000. The company calls the Eye-Pal SOLO a “scanning appliance,” and in my opinion, that’s a very accurate description. Picture a flat metal box 11.5" x 9.5" x 2.5" (length, width, and height) with five controls on the front, and a camera on top of a metal pole suspended 16 inches above the top surface, and you have the Eye-Pal SOLO. The front panel buttons allow you to move to the previous sentence, start and stop reading, adjust volume and reading speed, and power the unit on and off. Optionally, you can control the unit by using hand gestures, but this feature is turned off by default. I tried using hand gestures for a short time, and was pleasantly surprised to discover how well they worked. For an additional $250, you can purchase a small keypad which allows you to read the document by word, and lets you save up to four pages into the unit’s memory.
Setting up the Eye-Pal SOLO couldn’t have been easier. I unpacked it, placed it on a table, inserted the pole with the camera into a hole at the rear of the unit, connected the camera cable, and plugged in the power supply. I powered up the unit, and after a short warm-up, a clear female synthesized voice instructed me to “Place your document.” I grabbed the only piece of paper I could find in the shipping carton, put it on top of the box, and waited. After a couple of audible clicks and about 10 seconds, that same synthesized voice began reading the first page of what turned out to be a quick-start guide, which described the five front panel controls and their functions. I removed the piece of paper from the top of the box, and was again instructed to “Place your document,” so I grabbed an envelope from a stack of mail and put it on top of the box.
After reading a few more pieces of mail, I realized that this incredibly simple scanning appliance is truly a marvelous machine. Now, at long last, I can quickly sort my own mail, deciding what to throw away and what to keep, what to read immediately and what to read later with sighted assistance. The Eye-Pal SOLO may not be for everyone, but the independence it gives me is worth every penny I paid for it. Kudos to ABISee for a great product!
To learn more about the Eye-Pal SOLO, or to find dealers in your area, contact: ABISee, Inc., 77 Powder Mill Rd., Suite 4, Acton, MA 01720; phone 1-800-681-5909; fax (253) 595-3623; e-mail [email protected]; or visit www.abisee.com.
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