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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 July 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 7

Product Evaluations and Guides

The Perkins SMART Brailler Does More than Make Dots

Although it's roughly only the size of their manual brailler writer, the Perkins SMART Brailler does a lot more. It provides customizable audio feedback as the user types, there's a screen on which a sighted person can see what is being written, and a memory device can be plugged in via a USB port.

The SMART Brailler is a learning tool for anyone learning braille. As the user types, the SMART Brailler speaks according to the speech settings—similar to how a screen reader provides audio feedback. A teacher who cannot read braille can see what a student is writing as he types, and the student gets immediate audio feedback from the machine so he doesn't have to wait until the teacher reads his assignment. Because it has a screen, the SMART Brailler provides instant visual feedback. Thus a parent or other sighted individual can help a child with her assignments and the device also helps the parent learn braille along with the child. In addition, the braille file can be put onto a flash drive and then onto a computer in text format. These features allow blind and sighted children to work together on an assignment with relative ease.

This unit uses braille paper up to 8.5 by 11 inches and can braille up to 28 cells per line. At this time, the SMART Brailler does not support Nemeth code.

What's in the Box

The box contains the SMART Brailler, a braille guide for getting started, a small piece of printed paper with a few updates to the braille guide, and a small box that holds the power adapter and a rechargeable battery. If you want to use features such as audio feedback, it is necessary to either install the battery or use the power adapter. If the SMART Brailler is only being used as a standard Perkins brailler, it is not necessary to use battery or AC power.

The enclosed braille instructions explain how to install the rechargeable battery but also say that you may need sighted assistance. The screws for the battery compartment cover are very tiny and come completely off when they are loosened. The battery itself gets plugged into a small port inside the battery compartment. Once the battery is plugged in, the screws need to be tightened. Using the AC adapter, the battery must be charged for about eight hours before being used. However, if the brailler is plugged in, it can be used while the battery is charging.

Layout

Position the SMART Brailler with the keys and screen facing you. The handle is located below the nine keys that make up the keyboard. In the middle of the keyboard is the spacebar. To the left of the keyboard are the keys for typing dots 3, 2, and 1. The keys for dots 4, 5, and 6 are to the right of the spacebar. The line spacing key is at the far left of the keyboard and the backspace key is at the far right.

The carriage is at the top of the brailler. The carriage consists of the embossing head on the bottom, the carriage release button on the top and the easy erase button slightly to the right of the release button. The paper release levers are on the left and right side of the carriage. The roller handles, for loading paper into the carriage, are on the left and right side of the brailler. At the back of the brailler are two indentations. The left one is just above the AC adapter. When the tabs just above the indentations are lifted upward, the reading rest will appear.

The power switch for the SMART Brailler is on the right side of the unit. What makes this brailler different is the SMART Module, which is located above the braille keyboard. In the middle of the module is a screen, meant for sighted users. To the left of the screen are four buttons. From top to bottom, these buttons: 1) turn the screen off and on, 2) change screen display modes, 3) control whether the SMART Brailler types contracted or uncontracted braille (contracted braille translation is provided by Duxbury Systems), and 4) control what and whether the brailler speaks. The speaker is located to the left of the four buttons.

The menu button is located above and to the right of the screen. Next to it and slightly below are four crescent-shaped buttons, with a diamond shaped button in the middle. The four crescent buttons are for up, down, left, and right and the diamond button is the Select button.

At the top right of the SMART Module is a headphone jack and along the right side of the module is a volume control. There's a USB port at on the lower right side of the SMART Module. The margin guides are located behind the SMART Module and are accessed by gently pulling the top of the SMART Module forward. Once the margins are set, push the SMART Module back into place.

Getting Help

Along with the instructions that come in the box, there are several other ways to learn how to use the SMART Brailler and get assistance. The SMART Brailler comes with an excellent audio tour. It is accessed by turning on the brailler and pressing the down button until you hear "Audio Tour." Press the select button to start the tour. The tour reviews the SMART Brailler's layout and describes how to accomplish a variety of tasks including how to load paper, set margins, and choose between contracted and uncontracted braille.

A link on the website leads to descriptions on how to accomplish tasks such as creating and saving a file and how to transfer a file from the SMART Brailler to a computer.can be downloaded as a PDF document from the website. Activate the SMART Brailler User Manual link. This manual gives very detailed, step-by-step instructions.

There are several training videos on the SMART Brailler website. When using Safari and Chrome on the Mac I was not able to access the controls for many of the videos. I was able to play the In Depth Training Webinar and the SMART Brailler for Adults Learning Braille webinar. With Windows Explorer on a PC, activating the Training Videos link loaded a new page with access to all the videos (not all the buttons were labeled, but the play buttons were).

Customer support can be reached at 617-972-7308 or by e-mail.

Using the SMART Brailler

The audio tour was very useful for learning the layout of the brailler and for learning how to accomplish tasks required to use the SMART Module. When the audio tour was paused, the brailler kept saying that the tour was paused and to activate the select button to continue.

It took a couple of attempts for me to load the paper correctly. I discovered that if I placed my hand at the top of the unit's reading rest, so I could make sure the paper stayed on the guide, it was easy to get the paper in. By following directions on how to remove the paper, the paper came out easily.

Using the SMART Module

If more than one person will be using the SMART Brailler, separate accounts will need to be created. Doing so lets each user have their own settings and files.

Creating an Account

Turn the unit on and use the down button to get to the "User" option. Press the Select button. Auditory instructions will be presented on how to create an account. Each letter of the name has to be selected from the alphabet. The four crescent shaped navigation keys will move through the letters. Use the Select button to choose a letter. When finished, navigate to the OK button. After a few seconds you'll hear the name of the account.

The Settings Menu

This menu offers ways for each user to customize the SMART Brailler's voice, language, screen, and more.

Voices and Language

The default language is US English but many other languages, including Spanish, French, and Russian, are also available through the settings menu. Acapela text-to-speech voices, from Acapela Group, are provided for each language. US English has Heather as the default, but Ryan and Laura are also available. Voices are chosen via the Settings menu.

Colors

The third option in the settings menu is Colors. This setting is useful for sighted teachers and parents as well as users who are low vision. The default setting is black on white. There are many other options including: white on black, yellow on black, black on yellow, and black on pink.

Brightness

The next option in the Settings menu is for adjusting the screen brightness. The user is prompted to use the up and down buttons to adjust the brightness. No audio feedback was given to indicate any changes.

Power

The Power option provides options for choosing how long the screen stays on without being used. There are separate settings for adapter and battery.

System

The final option in the settings menu is System. This category presents information about the SMART Brailler such as license, operating system, and battery status.

Adjusting What the SMART Brailler Says

The speech button, which is the bottom button on the left side of the SMART Module, offers several options for choosing what the Brailler says. These options are: letters, letters and words, speak lines, speak everything, and speech off. Speech rate cannot be changed.

Erasing a Mistake

A very convenient feature is the built-in erase button. Instructions on how to use it are in the audio tour. The Brailler says the name of the character being erased. However, if the error is in the first cell on a line, the eraser cannot be used for that error.

You can only edit the line you are on. If you've made an error on a previous line, FAQ recommends transferring the file onto a computer, editing the file, and then transferring it back to the Brailler.

Creating and Saving a file

Any saved file can be opened on the SMART Brailler or put on a USB drive and copied to a computer. This is accomplished through the file menu. When the Save button is activated, the Brailler will use the first line of text as the title. Therefore you cannot customize a file's name. If the first line you typed is "English Assignment," that's what the saved file will be called. Therefore, make sure the first line will help you identify the file easily. If you add more to the file, each subsequent addition will have a number in parenthesis. All files are saved as .txt files; this is the only format that the SMART Brailler can read.

The file menu gives additional options such as Read File and Save File to USB. I was able to have the SMART Brailler read a text file from a USB drive, but it took some time for the file to be loaded and then read. A file was copied from the Brailler to a USB drive. I was then able to read the file on a PC and a Mac. In both cases all words were correct and they appeared in the same location as on my original braille file. Another option is to print a file. This can be done by connecting the Brailler to a printer via the USB port.

Building on Patterns

Building on Patterns is a curriculum developed by the American Printing House for the Blind that is designed to help children learn braille. An app based on this program, developed by Perkins, is installed on SMART Braillers purchased from the Americn Printing House for the Blind. The app contains exercises and gives audio feedback whether user answers correctly or incorrectly.

Conclusion

The Perkins SMART Brailler is an excellent learning tool, allowing blind and sighted users the opportunity to work and learn together. The machine is relatively easy to use, with documentation online and via the onboard audio tour.

Product Information

Product: The Perkins SMART Brailler
Price: $2,195
Available from:
Perkins
175 North Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472
Phone: 617-972-7308
Fax: 617-926-2027
E-mail: PerkinsProducts@Perkins.org

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