[nobe-l] New Perkins Brailler

Ruby Polk r.polk1 at sbcglobal.net
Wed Dec 10 08:53:31 UTC 2008


 >From the Editor of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the blind.

To All  Readers:

It's a sunny morning in Watertown, MA, with a temperature in the mid-60s and
Mother Nature in the midst of her glorious autumnal show of color.  I'm on
the well-manicured campus of Perkins School for the Blind, where I have come
for the introduction of a redesigned icon.

Today would be the first opportunity for Perkins students- and me--to see
the Next Generation Perkins/APH Brailler.

I entered the stately Howe Building and made my way over squeaky-clean tile
floors to the auditorium, where students were awaiting the start of the

Standing in front of a large, round wooden table was David Morgan, general
manager of Perkins Products, the entity responsible for re-thinking the
brailler.  On the table sat four of his brand-new creations, and David
showed me the brailler's finer points as we discussed the design process.

He explained that Perkins Products began conceptualizing an updated brailler
about three years ago, but the "real work" started a year later, with
intensive user research in places like India, Mexico, South Africa and
Malawi.  Researchers heard how dust and dirt can jam the machines in India,
how teachers in Malawi have just one brailler to pass around an entire
school, and how American users wished for something easier to carry.

Perkins engineers paid close attention to these comments, and they responded
by making their next-generation brailler more portable, with a lighter
weight and a smaller size.  This machine weighs about 25 percent, or three
pounds, less, and its footprint has been reduced, with dimensions that are
12 inches long, 10 inches wide and six inches high.  A new built-in handle
in the base is easy to grip.  The brailler's keys have been redesigned to
require less force, so the machine is more comfortable to use over a longer
period of time.  Keys are now lower to the table surface, making it easier
to position fingers comfortably.

The color of the keys has been changed to white, which contrasts with the
brailler's colorful body, aiding those with low vision.  The new machine is
less noisy, and it has a muted end-of-line bell.  At the back of the
brailler is a retractable reading rest, which holds the paper flat, making
it easier to proofread.  Located on the front of the machine, margin guides
are easier to grasp and hold.  These are now easily accessible, and do not
require reaching around to the back.  The paper-feed knobs have a flatter
shape, making them easier to hold and turn.  This brailler takes paper up to
8-1/2 inches wide and 14 inches long.

I'm sure braillists will appreciate these many improvements, but I'm betting
that the most popular feature will be the easy-erase button.  Simply
depressing one key deletes an incorrect cell, letting the user braille over
the original one.

As you might expect, the Next Generation Perkins/APH Brailler, its official
name, looks and feels very different from the classic version, which Perkins
will continue to sell.

Although the original design is cherished, it went unchanged for 57 years,
and Perkins thought they were losing a lot of young people with it--that it
wasn't quite "cool enough," according to David.  Hip or not, the engineers
saw no need to do a complete redesign, he said.  They kept everything that
was great about the original and put it in new packaging, making the machine
lighter and more portable.

Those familiar with the classic know it is constructed of heavy-duty metal.
The next- generation brailler still has mostly all-metal construction
inside, and the same embossing mechanisms, but the exterior shell is made of
ABS plastic.  This polycarbonate is a high-impact engineered plastic, like
that used on aircraft.  Perkins Products believes this plastic will prove to
be more durable.

It certainly is more colorful, as the brailler's exterior housing comes in a
vivid shade similar to sky blue.

This color, known as APH blue, will be the only one available until the
spring, when there will be two more color choices: raspberry and midnight

How did the color and initials of American Printing House for the Blind end
up on a Perkins product?  David explained that APH actually had started
designing its own brailler a few years ago.  After learning that Perkins was
already redesigning the classic brailler, APH decided to shelve its project.
They joined forces with the school and supported Perkins's redesign by
underwriting much of the research and development costs.

In exchange for the Printing House's contribution, the letters a p and h
were added to the brailler's name, and APH blue was the first color to be
offered.  They also have exclusive distribution rights within the United
States and U.S. territories for the first six months of the product launch.
Buyers using Federal Quota Funds will have to make their purchases through
APH.  By spring 2009, however, Perkins Products expects that all the
resellers who carried its braillers in the past will offer the new one.

The Next Generation Perkins/APH Brailler came on the United States market in
October at a price of $650, which, refreshingly, is $40 less than the
classic.  It has a warranty of one year on parts and labor.  International
orders will be accepted after the first of the year.  For developing
countries with lower and middle incomes, purchase subsidies will be
available, as they are for the classic model.

Some of the next-generation braillers will undoubtedly end up back in the
country where they were made.  While the components are mostly American,
some parts are sourced from southeast Asia.  Final assembly takes place in
India at an ISO 9001 factory, which meets U.S. standards, and about 80
percent of its workers have some kind of disability.

Perkins Products has developed a marketing strategy for this brailler, the
centerpiece of which is a special Web site.  Perkinsbrailler.org features a
song written especially for the brailler by blind recording artist Raul
Midon.  His "Next Generation" is a very catchy tune, and if you like it
enough, you can even download a ringtone to your cell phone.

After the marketing presentation was concluded, David left the Howe Building
with me.  I asked him what the next project is for Perkins Products, and
found out that an electric version of the redesigned brailler will be coming
to market in a year or so.

I then asked how the introduction has been going for this brailler.  David
said he's pleased that the machine has generated a great deal of attention,
and thinks that sales will be stimulated as word gets out.

With obvious pride, he mentioned that professionals in the blindness field
have called the Next Generation Perkins/APH Brailler "revolutionary."  As we
said our goodbyes, David added a final thought: "If it builds interest and
excitement for braille, then it's done its job."

The Next Generation Perkins/APH Brailler certainly is a great present for
Louis Braille's 200th birthday in January-or this month it could even be a
nice holiday gift for yourself or someone very special. 

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