Comparing Notetakers and Mainstream Alternatives

Presentation from the 2011 CSUN Technology Conference.
Presenters: Anne Taylor, the Director of Access Technology at the National Federation for the Blind and Michael Barber, Michael Barber, President National Federation of the Blind of Iowa


Anne began by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of mainstream devices such as the iPhone and iPad versus dedicated devices such as the The Braille Sense Plus, BrailleNote, Pac Mate, and Sendoro GPS devices.

It may be unfair to critique Apple and their iOS when they are doing so much in the area of accessibility, but as the current market leader and with their accessibility efforts they are the only experience that can even be compared with dedicated notetaker devices.

Advantages of Dedicated Devices

  • You don’t have to worry whether functionality is accessible or not, it’s going to be accessible.
  • More tuned into the needs of the blind community.
  • Accessibility is the bread and butter for those companies.
  • More training agency resources in the industry focused on the dedicated devices (than iOS devices).

Disadvantage of the Dedicated Devices

  • They are more expensive to purchase and users who are blind have less buying power than the sighted population.
  • More expensive to maintain- changing the battery in one (unnamed) device cost $400.
  • Lag time in development compared to mainstream technology.
  • Lack of versatility in what you can do (there’s no app for that).
  • Tools are not as powerful (i.e. advanced functions in Microsoft Word).

Advantage of Mainstream (iOS) Devices

  • More affordable.
  • They keep pace with technology better (i.e. using iOS devices to control appliances).
  • Wide availability, better distribution channels.
  • Less expensive to maintain.
  • Great compatibility with other mainstream devices- one device for the sighted and the blind.
  • Easier to find support from other people who have similar devices.

Disadvantages of Mainstream (iOS) Devices

  • The accessibility documentation and training can be difficult to find.
  • Accessibility is great on iOS devices and is woven into Apple’s culture, but it is still a secondary feature.
  • Accessibility provides access to text, not braille. Third-party soulutions are available, but support for Braille integration is still weak.
  • Less understanding of the needs of the blind community.
  • Individual applications may or may not be accessible.


Anne asked whether or not mainstream devices were able to adequately replace dedicated device. While some blind users already have already replaced their dedicated devices for a mainstream device, the needed functionality still isn’t there yet for many users.

Other Resources Mentioned

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