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The supportive technology workroom

The supportive technology workroom is equipped with a state-of-the-art Braille Box braille printer and a heater for tactile graphics. Thanks to such appliances, the students can count on high-quality adaptations of educational materials that they need (printouts in braille and tactile graphics). Individual consultations are also possible as to the selection and use of devices and software meeting the students' disability-related needs.

Below are a few assistive appliances available at the IT workroom for blind and partially sighted students:

Braille Box printer

A photo of the Braille Box printerMaterials can be printed in braille thanks to a braille printer and specialist software translating text into braille. The two-step process goes as follows: the software translates electronic texts into braille after which they are "sent" to a braille printer. Contrary to regular printers, our device features a set of hammers rather than cartridges with ink or toner, thanks to which materials can be embossed in braille. The paper used for braille prints is roughly twice as thick as that used for standard flat prints.
The Braille Box printer used in our workroom makes it possible to print materials in various languages at an impressive speed of 300 characters per second. Its huge advantage is a relatively low level of noise and an ample paper tray allowing for comfortable printing of multi-page documents. Our printer supports both A4 and A3 formats, has the two-page printing option and is fitted with sound (all its operations are voice-announced), while the buttons on the control panel are additionally described in braille. Interestingly, the printer may have a slightly different look than most of braille printers yet it has won a number of awards for its design.

Electronic enlarger

a photo of the electronic enlarger

Have you ever seen an Indiana Jones film? Or any other flick about treasure hunters? If so, you probably know that a map leads to treasure but is sometimes minute and to make out the relevant details the main character uses a magnifying glass. Today this is hardly true any more. To magnify images electronic enlargers are most frequently utilised. They can be of various sizes: from large stationary ones, through medium-sized portables, to units that fit into the pocket and resemble mobile phones in size. 

The stationary enlargers comprise a desktop with a control panel where the object one wants to magnify is placed and an arm with an in-built camera (of even HD quality), a light source and a monitor. Different working modes make it possible to adjust the appliance to the user's individual needs. Depending on the model various magnifications are possible, contrast change options (various combinations of text and background colours), view change options (like narrowing the image to just a single line or a selected area), location pointer, line pointer facilitating reading, as well as a speech synthesiser. Such magnifiers are perfect for not just reading books, newspapers or watching photos in the privacy of one's home but they work well for various activities which require precision like sewing or filling in forms.

Those who work a lot out of home would prefer portable enlargers. They do not have a monitor, are much smaller than those stationary ones but offer similar features. Although they require a PC hook-up, it is not much of a problem in this day and age of laptops. 

Those who do not need to read long texts out of home should be happy with a pocket-sized enlarger. Visually, it resembles a smartphone and works perfectly in a shop, for instance, when one wants to read a product's price or ingredients. It is often equipped additionally with a stand for comfortable reading.

By Katarzyna Pyryt

The computer mouse for users with mobility disability

a photo of the computer mouse for users with mobility disability

In terms of functionality, computer mouse devices for persons with disabilities are not much different from standard ones yet the mode of operation is slightly different. Using a standard mouse, its physical movement results in the movement of the cursor on the computer screen while mouse devices for disabled users have a TrackBall (a large ball making the mouse look somewhat like an old-fashioned regular mouse turned upside down with the ball on top). The cursor movement on the screen is not caused by the mouse movement but ball manipulation. Mouse devices for persons with disabilities may come in various shapes and sizes. Some models have buttons in contrasting colours so that partially sighted users can locate them easily, some may feature a joystick instead of the trackball. a photo of the computer mouse for users with mobility disability 2

Selecting a computer mouse for a disabled user should be based on his/her individual needs. A correctly chosen device should let the user move in the computer environment comfortably and without hassle. 

(Note: There are also other devices which facilitate computer use even for tetraplegic persons, yet they are hardly serial tending to be custom-made products).

 By Katarzyna Pyryt

Watches for blind persons

A photo of the watch for the blind person

Checking the time is a banal activity which comes very easy to most of us: a quick look at the watch or the screen of your mobile phone and you know the time. What are the options for blind persons? Talking watches seem to be the first and most obvious choice. 

Just press one button and the current time will be said. There are some disadvantages, however. In a crowded and noisy place like the street one may be unable to hear the spoken message. Further, it is impossible to check the time discreetly, for instance in a meeting. And here "Braille watches" come in handy.

The operation of such a watch is very simple. Its glass is attached to a tiny hinge, which enables the user to lift it and directly touch the face of the watch. The face itself has convex markings and the hands are mounted in such a way as to prevent their movement.

The third and possibly rarest solution can be seen in the TISSOT Silen-T watch. After pressing a button, the edge of the bezel starts to vibrate in the place indicating the hour and the time can be read in a discreet manner. The solution does not require lifting the glass or touching the face of the watch directly, thanks to which the user does not run the risk of making the mechanism dirty or damaging the hands.

By Radosław Zaremba

Braille note-taker
a photo of the Braille note-taker

Screen-reading software with a speech synthesiser lets blind persons use the computer, for instance to create text files. The solution has a number of advantages yet there are a few downsides, too. What about note-taking during lectures? Listening to the speaker and speech synthesiser at the same time will cause a distraction and so the work is likely to be inefficient, not to mention disturbing the others in the room. 

The Braiile note-taker will come in handy in the situation. It is an interesting device enabling the user to take and read notes in a more discreet manner than in the case of a PC with screen-reading software. Braille note-takers are available in a variety of models from many manufacturers. They differ in terms of weight, shape and functionalities. Let us have a look at the features they all share, though.

The key feature is a Braille display. It is divided into sections called cells. Each cell represents a single character in the Braille alphabet. The white points visible in the photo will go up or down as needed, making a given character this way. Depending on the model, Braille displays can be longer or shorter, the former easier to use, yet less practical to travel with.

Note-takers are usually fitted with a Perkins keyboard (although there are some models with a QWERTY keyboard). Each of the buttons under the user's fingers represents a single Braille point, and under the thumbs is the space button. Individual characters are entered by simultaneously pressing a relevant key combination.

Depending on the model, the Braille note-taker will offer a number of other functions than text edition. It may be an address directory, an e-mail client or even an Internet browser. As you can see, these devices offer a lot and have a number of practical applications which are indispensable for active users, schoolers or university students. The choice of models is relatively generous (for specialist equipment) and so there is a product available for everyone.

By Radosław Zaremba

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