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In Support of The Optacon's Revival

Recent discussion of the Optacon and Optacon training sharply emphasizes the usefulness of the device and the decline in its popularity. It seems that the recent shift to scanners and optical character recognition has convinced the manufacturer and many blind people that the Optacon is obsolete. The unique strengths of the Optacon have been largely overlooked. I believe blind people will be losing a valuable tool if it is allowed to slip into obsolescence.

I have been using the Optacon for over twenty years--primarily to read short items such as bills, letters, memos and tabular material. I use it regularly to check stamps, proof-read envelopes and address labels. The Optacon provides a two-dimensional access to print material unlike a scanner with a speech screen-reader which only gives a uni-dimensional access. It is much easier to deal with complex spatial layouts such as headers and footers, bills and tables using the Optacon.

In my job I do a lot of word processing work, so far I haven't felt the need to obtain a scanner for use in my job. I could not do without the Optacon at work, however. Although I proof-read the body of documents on the screen with the screen reader, the Opticon comes into play when I want to check some formatting detail. At home, I can use it to read directions on packages. Can you imagine trying to read the label on a can of soup using a scanner? Another point in the Optacon's favour is its portability which is still unsurpassed by other print-reading devices--as far as I know.

Optacon users must have a working knowledge of the print alphabet--something people who have always read Braille often lack. I find it very useful to be able to read raised-print signs tactilely. Without my Optacon training I would likely not have acquired this useful skill. We need to recognize the vital place the Optacon holds among available print reading devices. I feel that those of us who are proponents of the Optacon need to lobby for increased promotion of the device and to demonstrate it on a massive scale to blind children, youth and adults. It provides blind people with a unique and flexible access to print which they cannot afford to lose.

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