The personal views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent a product endorsement on behalf of Sense.
For people like me who are deafblind, braille displays can be an invaluable tool to help us access information and keep in touch with family and friends. There are an increasing number of braille devices currently on the market – we’ve written about some of them in previous posts. One of the newest Braille Displays available is the VarioUltra braille display and notetaker, manufactured by BAUM.
BAUM design and manufacture a range of products for blind, deafblind and visually impaired people.
I met with Ian Bradburn, BAUM UK’s Managing Director and Dave Williams, an independent accessibility consultant, who talked me through the features of VarioUltra and gave me the opportunity to use the device.
VarioUltra is a combined braille display and notetaker rolled in to one, it is an extremely portable and well-designed unit. It comes with either 20 or 40 braille cells. I had a go with both during my demonstration.
The first thing for me to say is how impressed I was with the design of VarioUltra. It has brushed aluminium housing, and the braille and navigation keys are really nice to touch. It features an eight-button braille keyboard and two space bars. The braille cells are crisp – it felt like reading braille on paper. Dave mentioned that the display I was using for the demonstration was a year old so I was impressed that the braille cells hadn’t lost any of their clarity.
Dave started by showing me the notetaking features of VarioUltra. It comes with a suite of apps loaded to facilitate word processing, reading of PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint documents. There is no speech output so everything is completely accessible via a braille reader. I had the opportunity to create, edit and save a document, which was really straightforward. I could see myself valuing the notetaking features of VarioUltra in a meeting, and I wish I’d had one in my student days for taking notes at lectures!
I’ve already talked about the brailing keys, but typing on VarioUltra is really quiet. Some braille displays or braillers are quite noisy and, if you are a bit like me and don’t like drawing attention to yourself, having a quiet way of writing is great. The device comes with 32GB of storage and you can add extra by attaching a USB drive.
We then went on to look at the Braille Display function of VarioUltra. One of the advantages of VarioUltra is that it is possible to connect multiple devices, either via Bluetooth or USB cable, at the same time. VarioUltra has four Bluetooth channels and a USB port meaning that, in theory, you could have five devices connected simultaneously. For the demonstration, Dave brought his iPhone and iPad and I was able to switch from one to the other. Although we didn’t try it out, the fact that it could also connect to a computer (either via USB or Bluetooth) is a real benefit. With my current display I have to disconnect the braille display from the laptop before I can use it with my phone – a process that is a bit fiddly. With VarioUltra I can move between phone and laptop or other device with the flick of a switch!
I also had a sneak peak at a new function, which rolls out to all users this summer. This was the ability to copy and paste information from, for example, a Word document in the note taking part of VarioUltra and paste it into, say, a text message or email on my iPhone after switching back to braille display mode. While this will only work for small amounts of text, it really is a clever feature.
The VarioUltra 20 cell braille display with notetaker costs £2,395.00, and the 40 cell version costs £3,495.00 (both excluding VAT). They are expensive, but BAUM is investigating offering purchasing plans, allowing customers to spread their payments over a period of time. To find out more visit the VarioUltra website.
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