Along with grilling out, enjoying time with friends, and taking road trips with my wife, one of the things I look forward to each summer is the opportunity to find out what's happening at all of the conventions related to blindness and low vision. Although I am not able to attend all of them, the ones I do attend allow me to network with others in the blind community, and, of course, put my hands on the latest releases of the coolest technology around.

This year, I had the privilege of attending the American Council of the Blind's annual Conference and Convention in Reno, Nevada. While I didn't see any brand-new products there, I was pleased to learn that many products that have been promised for some time are finally beginning to reach the hands of consumers. Let's look at what products are finally shipping, and which products continue to improve.

The BrailleNote Touch Continues to Mature

In the April 2017 issue of AccessWorld, I wrote about my experiences at this year's CSUN assistive technology conference. While I was there, I learned about upcoming features in version 3 of HumanWare's KeySoft suite of products for the BrailleNote Touch. One thing that was promised was the ability to update apps individually. At this year's ACB conference, I didn't learn much more about the BrailleNote Touch other than that version 4 of KeySoft was coming. This version should fix problems that Touch users have been having with YouTube. There are bound to be more treasures in the next version of KeySoft, so be sure and visit the BrailleNote Touch website for the latest information.

HumanWare Victor Products Just Keep Getting Smarter

While I was at the HumanWare booth, I literally got to hold, but not demo, a brand-new product from the company. The Victor Reader Trek combines the power of the Victor Reader Stream e-book reader and audio player with the Trekker Breeze GPS navigation system. Fortunately for all of us, Blind Bargains has once again come through with an in-depth podcast on the Victor Reader Trek that explains how it works and demonstrates its features. I found the unit to be quite pleasant to hold—it is the same size as the Victor Reader Stream, but a bit thicker--and I am sure many will find this product to be a must-have item when it ships sometime in October. The cost of the unit will be $699.

BrailleSense Polaris Can Be Yours!

At CSUN, I was able to take a look at the BrailleSense Polaris, the newest Android-based notetaker from HIMS, Inc. At that time, the product was not yet shipping, but today you can pick one up for $5,795. AccessWorld has plans to evaluate the BrailleSense Polaris sometime after the summer conventions are over.

What's New from VFO

When I stopped by the booth for VFO, the company that now includes Freedom Scientific among others, I learned that ElBraille, the Windows 10-based notetaker that works with VFO's Focus 14 braille display, was very popular among convention attendees. The price of the ElBraille without a braille display or JAWS license is $1,795. Here is a more complete price list if you are interested in this product.

When I asked for a tease regarding the latest version of JAWS, I was told that one important change will be the way future products from VFO are identified. You can expect the release of JAWS 2018 sometime this fall, probably at the end of October. Rather than trying to keep track of version numbers for all VFO software releases, you will only need to refer to the latest release of each product by its year of release. Support for the Edge browser in Windows 10 is promised for JAWS 18 users, and will certainly be a part of JAWS 2018. Another interesting development is the expansion of the Convenient OCR feature found in JAWS. This means that those who only need to do basic scans of documents, such as reading mail delivered by the post office, may not need to own a separate piece of software such as Open Book to accomplish this task. More complex scanning needs, such as the ability to adjust various aspects of how the scan takes place, will still require separate software.

Orbit Reader 20 is Coming in for a Landing Soon

I wrote favorably about the Orbit Reader 20 refreshable braille display from American Printing House for the Blind after getting a look at it at CSUN. While some convention attendees were able to take home a few of these devices, they are not expected to be widely available for a few more months, and APH is not yet announced official pricing for the Orbit Reader 20 on their product page.

Triumph Technology Offers Braille Displays with Active Control

For several conventions now, I have stopped by the Triumph Technology booth and visited with its staff. For some reason, I have not taken the time to look at the braille displays they have to offer that feature Active Tactile Control technology, which senses when the reader's hand has reached the far end of the line of braille, and advances the screen automatically. Even with a display as small as the 16-cell Actilino, reading is effortless. You can own one of these displays for $2,495.

In addition to looking at technology, I had the pleasure of finally meeting award-winning singer/songwriter Ginny Owens in person. Ginny was at the Triumph Technology booth for both the ACB and NFB conventions this year. If you aren't familiar with her music, you should be.

OrCam MyEye Continues to Innovate

In the March 2016 issue of AccessWorld, as part of our coverage of that year's ATIA Conference, I wrote about OrCam, a pair of glasses with a camera and earpiece mounted on them. The ability to read menus and identify faces by "looking" at them was intriguing, to say the least. At this year's ACB convention, I learned that OrCam is continuing to develop its product. In an upcoming release of the software, available on an SD card, the facial recognition feature will be improved, OrCam will be able to identify hundreds of thousands of barcodes, and many of the product's features will be automated if the user chooses to configure them that way. I look forward to seeing what the company has to offer in the future.

Final Thoughts

While I wasn't left breathless by anything at this year's ACB convention, I was pleased to see that many long-anticipated products are beginning to reach the hands of consumers. Also, products that have been out for a while are continuing to receive regular updates, bringing many new features along the way. It was also good to hear those who were manning the various exhibit booths talk excitedly about what their companies had to offer.

Be sure to read AccessWorld regularly to stay informed about the latest releases of existing products, as well as to learn about upcoming and just-released technology.

Do you have any comments about where technology is heading? We would love to hear from you. What are you excited about? What frustrates you? If you could see one new product develop over the next year, what would it be? One thing is for sure: exciting times are ahead!

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Jamie Pauls
Article Topic
Conference Coverage