Braille Monitor                                                                 April-May 1985


Response to "Of Optacons and Options"

In the March, 1985, Monitor we carried an article entitled "Of Optacons and Options." A student told of her problems with the Optacon, and I gave my impressions, which were not very positive. I qualified my remarks to the extent of saying that they were simply based on personal belief and personal experience. Obviously other people have had different experiences from mine and, therefore, have different beliefs. How many people hold what views will, of course, depend on who is doing the reporting and who is being surveyed. Be that as it may, here is another point of view:

Willow Street, Pennsylvania
March 11, 1985

Re: Of Optacons and Options

Dear Dr. Jernigan:

We received our March Braille Monitor on Saturday, and I read "Of Optacons and Options" with some interest. I would like to respond to the student regarding some of his concerns and also comment on your thoughts about Optacons.

I have used my Optacon for the past eleven years. My husband, Jerry, has used his for eight years. We use them for all of the uses you mentioned: reading mail, reading a computer screen, getting the format of a printed page, and more. I use my Optacon at work to read consumer complaints, response letters from companies, and any other comments received from the customers. I read magazine articles (I've just finished reading a short book), check care instructions on labels in clothing, recipes on boxes and cans, preparation instructions for frozen food, verifying checks I've written, to mention a few.

I have also learned to accurately fill out forms using my Optacon and typewriter. While I agree that the Optacon cannot be used effectively to complete assignments by college students, with practice, the reading speed can be increased higher than the twelve words a minute this student is currently reading. I read approximately 36 words a minute. I am sorry that the Optacon is not used more by more blind people. Perhaps if it were, the price would come down somewhat. I agree that it is very much overpriced and that even the accessories are outrageous. However, since I've used my Optacon for so many years, the one I have now is my second. I used a model RIB until 1984. Then, when the cost of the service agreement went from $325 a year to $595, I decided to trade it in on a new model. It seems now that it was a wise decision since repairs of the older models cannot be guaranteed any longer and service agreements are not being sold for coverage on them longer than the end of this year. But I am glad to have it.

Now I have a few comments about the student's concerns:

I believe that all the things mentioned (getting used to the buzzing, reading speed, amount of time he is able to read without getting tired, and the size of the print) are all things that can be attributed to the fact that this student is just learning or has just learned to use the Optacon. The buzzing was very annoying to me at first, but I hardly notice it now. I believe that it has become just a part of my office now, and the other people never mention the sound.

I have already mentioned my reading speed, but as far as the time is concerned, that will also be increased as the student uses it more. On Saturday evening, while finishing the book I mentioned, I read for four hours before getting tired. I think my Optacon got tired sooner than I did since I had to plug it in to charge the battery before I was finished.

I don't really understand the print size problem. The only suggestion I have is that most print I read, either typed or printed, can be controlled by making adjustments to the print size by using the camera lens adjustment or the threshold adjustment. Jerry has a second lens for his Optacon because he needs it to read the computer screen. But, with all the different types of print I read, I only have the lens which comes with the Optacon.

These are my thoughts about the Optacon. Although the cost of the Optacon at $4,500 may be prohibitive for a lot of people, unless they get financing from some other sources like rehab or a service organization, I believe it is very useful, and I always find new ways that I can and do use my Optacon.


Cynthia E. Handel