Blind Bargains

APH Halts Hardware Development of Braille Plus 18, Evaluating Input from Users


The American Printing House for the Blind recently announced they have paused hardware development of the Braille Plus 18 notetaker. This is the second generation in the Braille Plus line of products, currently running Android version 2.3.

Pausing, not discontinuing

A number of consumers of the Braile Plus line of products, particularly the second generation unit, told us the product has been discontinued. APH Director of Technology Product Research Larry Skutchan wanted to clarify, and said discontinuing is perhaps a bit of a strong statement.

Skutchan said the company is currently reevaluating the question of the effectiveness of the Braille note taker as a whole, including the Braille Plus 18.

"We sent out surveys to our trustees back in May and to users on the Braille Plus 18 list, to get their satisfaction level with the current device to find out what needs we were meeting and what needs we weren't meeting and try to pick their brains on what kind of technology-related activities were they not able to do right now," he said.

Skutchan said having to maintain the software put them into much more work than anyone anticipated.

"We originally thought maybe we'll use Talkback and Brailleback, but the separation of Braille and speech is not advantageous for the way we wanted this to work with Braille as an integral part of the OS," he said.

Skutchan pointed out the difficulties of having to write a custom screen reader and the many obstacles APH encountered throughout that process.

What are others saying?

Zack Kline had a Braille Plus first generation, which ran Linux, for several years until he stopped using it in 2012.

"I always feel like it's an underappreciated bit of hardware, maybe because it was competing with the BrailleSense and BrailleNote," he said.

Kline said he felt it never really got the recognition it deserved. He said he felt the update support was a little slow, but said for what it did at the time the Braille Plus was pretty revolutionary.

Greg Wocher was very upset when he heard APH's decision to pause Braille Plus 18 hardware development from the Braille Plus 18 list.

"This really upsets me because I shelled out $3,600 of my own money for it. Right now we cannot even connect it to a computer to use as a display," he commented on Blind Bargains Qast 23. "I am at the point where I am about to give up on braille at all because I just cannot afford to use it."

What's Next?

Skutchan said APH is still in the upgrade process to release Android version 4.4 onto the existing units, and that the software is still being maintained at this time. New BraillePlus units are not currently available for sale on APH's website however.

Category: Articles
Displaying 2 comments.
darknexus Wednesday, 12-Aug-2015 7:18 PM ET:

If you can't keep it updated, halt it. If they're still seriously talking about Android 4.4 now, they've got no chance of keeping current. Besides, I think it's time we re-evaluate the notetaker category into what it was originally meant to be, notetakers. They're crap for anything but taking notes. They're no good for wordprocessing, terrible at web browsing, too big to be used effectively as GPS units. Braille notetakers are good for taking quick notes, and reading Braille books. That's it. Computers are better for every other task, period. Baum seems to understand this, as did Optelec with the BC640.


marianne Monday, 17-Aug-2015 7:09 PM ET:

APH seems to do something like this on a regular basis. They have the advantage of receiving Federal Quota funds which many school districts use to purchase products that are inferior to the competition.


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Kevin Andrews is in his final year of undergrad at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. He is majoring in journalism with a concentration in public relations and a non-teaching minor. He's a huge techie and loves playing with new gadgets, even if they aren't his. When he isn't in the office, he loves traveling, music, spending time with family, hanging with friends and craft beer.


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