For blind people, pocketing the right document, opening the right can of food, or popping in the desired CD can be frustrating.
One of the most inexpensive methods for labeling household items is the PenFriend Audio Labeler, developed by England's Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).
The RNIB PenFriend looks and feels like a fat plastic pen about 6" in length. It has a microphone at the top, a built-in speaker, and its tip contains a tiny scanner.
Users affix a small, round sticker on an item they wish to label, point the tip at it, and use the microphone to record a brief message. PenFriend can later scan the label and play its corresponding message.
The PenFriend is easy to use. It has just three buttons - "On," "Record," and "Play" and comes with 127 labels in various shapes and sizes. Users can buy additional labels and record over previous messages.
With PenFriend, You're Recording on a Dot
"If you have a handful of DVDs and want to know which movie is which, you pull off one of these sticky dots and record on it," said Stephanie Hurd, volunteer coordinator for the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. "Every time the pen touches that dot, I hear the audio label, e.g. The Empire Strikes Back, that I've assigned to it."
According to Hurd, who is blind and who also runs the Seacoast Blind Tech computer user group, the PenFriend is ideal for labeling books, DVDs, and CDs, and offers creative ways to keep organized. "I created this magnetic calendar: I put the dots on little round magnets and use them to record appointments," said Hurd. "It's a great labeling device."
Other popular PenFriend uses include labeling food (including freezer items), photographs, school supplies, important papers, and medications. It can also be used to write and store shopping lists and to create notes - just record and stick the corresponding dot into a notebook.
There is no limit to message length. The PenFriend's 1GB of memory has approximately 70 hours of recording time.
The PenFriend can also be used to store and play MP3 files of audiobooks and music. The device comes with a USB cable, neck lanyard, and two AAA batteries.
The RNIB PenFriend won the 2010 Winston Gordon Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). The award recognizes significant technological advances benefiting people with vision loss.