Teachers of the visually impaired (TVI) are periodically faced with the need to procure a braille embosser to enable student development. Simply asking the procurement function, special education department, or administration of your school system to acquire more of the same printer model you already use (assuming you have used one in the past) can overlook the valuable opportunity this need represents for introducing new learning opportunities and efficiencies for you, your student, and the classroom in which you’ll be teaching.
In surveying the market for the absolute best solution for all involved, a list of important considerations appears below:
Ease-of-Use: How easy is it to set-up and use to convert text to braille?
The best embossers come with the capability to quickly be set up, brought online, and begin to convert text to braille or pictures and images to tactile graphics and braille without the necessity of additional hardware or complex configuration.
There is a significant efficiency difference between embossers with easy-to-use, pre-installed conversion software, and stand-alone or pieced-together conversion solutions requiring time-consuming special configuration effort. Any unnecessary time and effort required for software configuration to achieve text to braille conversion or enable tactile reproduction of images and pictures before printing can begin, is valuable time stolen from learning
Versatility: How expansive are the capabilities of the printer embosser?
Versatility means the ability to perform more helpful tasks than just embossing braille letters. The positive implications of a versatile embosser on learning plans and achievement of learning objectives can be significant.
The best embossers have the capability and versatility to reproduce pictures and images in the form of tactile graphics and braille. This capability opens up the world of possibilities for the visually impaired student, enabling the achievement of advanced learning objectives in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). Such versatility improves the ability of the blind or visually impaired (BVI) student to keep up with grade-level learning objectives and build a more robust foundation for a future professional career.
Turn on Time: When switched on, how quickly is the embosser ready to print your material?
Teachers of the visually impaired and their students will not typically need to have the braille printer turned on and available for use every minute of every classroom day. But when the need arises, it is less frustrating and disruptive of the lesson flow to be able to quickly energize a printer for rapid paper or plastic reproduction of the needed braille print or image reproduction.
Some embossers on the market take significantly longer to boot up and make themselves ready to print than others. All things being equal, the more rapid the boot-up, the more efficient and productive the instruction time and learning experience.
An additional consideration: It is also helpful to have the embosser connected to the primary classroom computer. When the classroom teacher is creating or opening documents for the sighted students in the class, that teacher can, with just a few keystrokes, quickly convert material into braille or print the tactile graphic for the student’s immediate access.
Noise Levels: How much noise and distraction will the braille embosser create?
To form a distinct and durable braille dot on a document, braille embossers use heavy duty mechanical punch mechanisms. These mechanical mechanisms are noisier than typical laser office print heads. Some embossers are so distractingly noisy, that printer enclosures are sold to acoustically seal them off, so that the noise is not distracting and offensive to other students and teachers in proximity.
A few embosser models currently available are remarkably less noisy and need no sound-proofing enclosures. Quieter embossers are less likely to distract the activities of a learning-integrated classroom environment, while avoiding the need and additional cost of a sound enclosure. Given the choice, quieter embossers, not requiring the addition of an enclosure, are a wiser alternative.
Training & Technical Support: Are training, set-up, and technical support provided?
Information technology and computer expertise is typically not the realm of the teacher of the visually impaired. Even the internal school IT support staff might not understand the specific unique nature of braille embossers.
During set-up, integration, use, and the occasional need for systems support, having an easily accessible service number to call is essential – not just for the early days of set-up and learning, but also for the life of the system. Choosing a supplier with a high degree of responsiveness, phone, online, video, and a “live human” on the other end of the line, will prove invaluable for the times when needed.
In addition, training for support staff and the TVI will be essential. It is important to determine if training is available in-person, on site, or only through online tutorial.
Service: Are you deciding for the future, or finding a solution for the moment?
Electromechanical devices don’t last forever, and computer-related equipment manufacturers continually offer software update releases intended to improve performance and/or fix bugs. In selecting a braille embosser, it is important to understand the dedication the manufacturer has to upgrading and continuing to provide value to its users after their purchase and installation.
Tactile Graphic Image Access: Will access to and reproduction of an expanding library of pictures, images and complex graphics be helpful?
This option describes the ability of the embosser to access and graphically reproduce a broad range of simple-to-complex tactile graphical images, directly from a range of different sources: PDF documents, Word files, and other computer pictures and images. Opening up the range of available sources with varying degrees of complexity and making the physical reproduction of those graphic images easier, greatly expands the breadth of learning objectives and lesson possibilities.
The ability to create braille graphic representations of complex natural scientific processes like the water cycle or photosynthesis, which may contain different components and directional arrows indicating how the flows take place, makes it easier for teachers to demonstrate to a visually impaired child, how these processes occur and expand their learning horizons.
A Final Word
The world of assisted learning technology is constantly evolving but not all manufacturers continue to design and introduce new models, additional capabilities, and improved overall performance. It is difficult for the busy teacher of the visually impaired to keep up with everything – and when the need arises for a new or replacement braille embosser it may seem “just easier” to ask for a replacement that is exactly what has been used in the past.
This status quo approach to such a decision, risks the loss of the opportunity for improved teaching efficiencies and increased student achievement – particularly in the realms of reaching grade-level learning objectives and preparing BVI students for a future of continued learning and insight beyond the K-thru-12 level.
The little bit of extra effort required to assure the selection of the absolute best braille embosser alternative pays back in terms of its value realized in both teacher effectiveness and the achievement of a student’s full potential.