2002 Conference Proceedings

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INTRODUCTION TO THE BRAILLEMASTER(tm) - THE FIRST SPEAKING BRAILLE TUTOR

Mimi C. Berman, Ph.D.
Independent Living Aids, Inc.
200 Robbins Lane
Jericho, NY 11753
Phone: 516-937-1848
FAX: 516-937-3906
E-Mail: mimi@independentliving.com

In the last few years there has been a renewed appreciation of the importance to the blind of knowing Braille. A chronic problem within the disabled community, particularly people who are legally blind, is the low employment rate. However, it has been shown that of those working, a greater percentage know Braille than those who are among the unemployed. In response to such findings, schools for the blind are putting more emphasis on the teaching of Braille. While teachers of Braille have developed successful techniques for teaching Braille, it is often difficult to provide adequate individual attention and it is impossible to be with each student during practice sessions. The BrailleMaster fills the need for a teaching tool that gives consistent and immediate feedback as well as permitting students to advance to the next lesson at their own pace. In this manner, it reinforces classroom learning. For adult learners, it can provide an introduction to Braille before they take formal classes and it can then be used to practice lessons.

The BrailleMaster was created by Kevin Knutson after he became blind as an adult. Finding it extremely difficult to master this new approach to reading and writing, he created the BrailleMaster to help himself and others.

The BrailleMaster teaches Braille dot patterns, Level Two contractions and the most commonly used English words. It is a 3 1/8" x 5 1/4" x 1 3/4" box with six raised bumps representing the dots in a Braille cell and a 7th button that serves as a function key or space bar. As the bumps are pushed, a clear male voice identifies the letter. Nineteen lessons, that are broken into three modes, teach the alphabet, numbers, punctuation, single cell letter combination contractions, single cell whole word contractions, dot contractions, punctuation and more. In the Learn Mode, the student is prompted for a character or word and the BrailleMaster says the character or word keyed in. If it is correct, the BrailleMaster prompts the next letter or word. If it does not match, the prompt is repeated. Practice Mode allows the student to key in letters or words and the BrailleMaster says what was keyed in. In Quiz Mode the student is prompted for a letter or word, but the BrailleMaster only speaks the correct coding if the student keys it in wrong.

An added feature is the 400 word dictionary of contractions. If the user enters a word for which a contraction exists, the unit announces the dot pattern for the contraction of that word. The contraction offered are those for the most commonly used words as published in APH's Expanded Dolch Word Cards and in general lists of the most frequently used words in the English language.

The unit has a headphone jack that allows private practice in the classroom or at home. The volume can be adjusted. It operates on 3 "AA" batteries. The progression of lessons is logical and intuitive. Teachers of Braille will find that students easily learn how it functions and will use it to supplement classroom teaching and to practice. It is supplied with a detailed instruction manual and cassette instructions. Since it has large, easy to feel bumps, it is ideal for young children and older students of Braille.


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