by Brad Hodges
From the Editor: Hundreds, maybe thousands of people flock to the exhibit hall during our national conventions. Somehow I can never find the time I need to browse through all the displays. I am always on the run: I have to buy a cane; there's a cameraman wanting to video people reading Braille; the Ohio table has to be set up or taken down. My intentions are always good; this year I am going to see what there is to be seen in the exhibit hall. And every year I disappoint myself. Lots of other people find themselves in the same situation, and of course many more miss the convention altogether.
So this year I asked Brad Hodges of our technology staff to take a minute to tell us about some of what we missed. Here is his report:
In addition to the familiar categories of presenters--computer and technology vendors, state and local affiliates, and service organizations--the 2001 convention saw the debut of entirely new classes of exhibitors. For the first time a bank was among the booths and tables on the exhibit floor. Bank Of America displayed its accessible automatic teller machine (ATM). The availability of instant cash in the exhibit hall was well received by conventioneers, judging from the lines at the ATM.
Continuing the cash-machine trend, Diebold, Inc., demonstrated its own accessible ATM. As a result, many federationists now recognize the convenience of having accessible ATM equipment in locations such as convenience stores.
In recent months accessible voting machines have gained much attention. Two manufacturers brought their equipment directly to the largest group of potential users. Avanti International Technology and Shoup Voting Solutions each demonstrated voting equipment designed to provide access to blind voters.
Braille paper is not a topic which generally creates much excitement, unless you happen to run out. Despite the less than glamorous nature of Braille paper, Star Continuous Card Systems (800-458-1413) scored a solid hit with its line of Braille paper and cards intended for use with the computer.
In addition to these and other newcomers many old friends and familiar faces were to be found in our 2001 exhibit Hall. Here are some highlights:
The American Printing House for the Blind displayed a take-apart map of the United States. The map, made of a plastic resin, provides exquisite topographical detail. Each state can be removed from the map, and the name of the state read in Braille on the map's base. The Materials Center also sells the map for $250.
Enablink.com is an Internet portal designed to serve the blind computer user. The company was highly visible at this year's convention. <www.enablelink.com>
Freedom Scientific occupied several very busy booth spaces. In addition to a preview of JAWS version 4, as expected, the company unveiled the Braille Lite Millennium-40.
GHLLC is an Indiana-based company which produces Braille and tactile graphics. The company furnished maps of the Marriott, produced using its proprietary process. Many of those who used the maps were favorably impressed by their quality.
HumanWare is the U.S. distributor for the Braille Note family of notetakers. A version of the Braille Note with a standard typewriter-style keyboard and a thirty-two-cell display was announced and demonstrated.
Kurzweil Educational Systems made what may be remembered as the most significant technology-related announcement at this year's convention. Pending court approval, employees of the company are finalizing a plan to purchase the company. This effort, if successful, will pull Kurzweil out of the legal entanglement surrounding L&H, its current parent company. The continued operation of Kurzweil will help to maintain healthy competition in the reading system market.
Features of the Kurzweil 1000 version 6 were demonstrated. These include an enhanced voice quality, the ability to examine regions of a document, and an interesting approach to reading PDF documents, many of which are not now accessible.
Sighted Electronics announced plans to import the Braille Assistant. According to a press release circulated at the company's booth, the notetaker will be based on the Linux operating system. It will offer word processing, e-mail and full Web browsing, a database, and calendar organizer. The units are expected in early fall and will be available in both Braille-keyboard and typewriter-keyboard versions.