Youtube Video From The American Printing House For The Blind: What Is an Optacon?

The American Printing House For The Blind uploaded a video to Youtube describing and demonstrating the Optacon. This video was uploaded to Youtube three weeks ago as of this writing. The video can be accessed via the above link.

Many subscribers to this list likely have fond memories of this device and some of you may well still own and use them. I have many memories of my own learning and using one starting when I was probably in the fourth or fifth grade. I eventually was given one to use at home and I often used them to read song lyrics on record covers, which I found fascinating. One of my fondest memories was when my father bought me a Sony ICF-2002 shortwave receiver when I had started college, possibly a bit earlier. The radio was supplied with a print booklet introducing the user to shortwave radio with a list of SW bands and their frequencies. I remember reading that booklet out loud using an Optacon and recording my reading onto a cassette. Following that I slowly transcribed that book into Braille by listening to my reading of it and manually typing it onto a Perkins Brailler using Thermoform paper in order to make the Braille last longer and give it what I thought was a more professional feel. Compared to how quickly I could have performed this task today using Bookshare, Duxbury and a Braille embosser It was time-intensive but I didn’t care. I wound up with the only Braille copy of this otherwise inaccessible booklet and I remember how proud I was that I transcribed it into Braille without any sighted assistance.

I am well aware that there are people today who still miss the Optacon and some who continue to use them. In spite of the advances we have made with OCR technology there has never been anything quite like the Optacon before it or since Telesensory stopped selling them. While OCR technology does an impressive job at interpreting printed material the Optacon was unique in that we, the users, were the ones who did the interpreting. It gave us access to just about anything with print on it whether it was a newspaper or a can of soup. It’s possible that the Optacon generation became more familiar with the concept of fonts and the visual layout of a page more so than today’s generation who learn to use screen readers during kindergarten classes. In our day those of us who used the Optacon were truly the first screen readers.

While I admit that today’s OCR solutions can read printed material faster than the Optacon ever could and even though we can save the text of a novel very quickly to a computer I have always felt that it was regrettable that the Optacon never returned as I sincerely believe that it still might have a place in our modern, twenty-first century world.

Do you have memories of the Optacon that you’d like to share? Do you still own a working Optacon? Do you still use one and, if so, how do you use it today? Why is it of value to you in spite of other solutions which are available today? Feel free to leave your thoughts and memories in the comments.

Enjoy the video.

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