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Mountbatten Can Make Learning Braille Easier

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Mountbatten Can Make Learning Braille Easier

The Mountbatten Braille Writer's built-in memory and text-to-speech can make learning braille easier for young children.

Harpo

Mountbatten Brailler Speaks & Remembers What Students Type:

The Mountbatten Brailler is an electronic braille writer that combines a braille keyboard with other assistive technology features, including text-to-speech, PC connectivity, and support of standard computer keyboards and printers.

Though not as popular in the US as the Perkins Brailler, the Mountbatten has built a loyal following around the world. Many teachers feel its interactivity and high-tech functions make the machine more inviting for young braille learners.

Ernest Bate developed the Mountbatten -- named to honor a British's lord's bequest to create a modern brailler -- at the Royal National College for the Blind. The machine was released in 1991.

Originally manufactured in Australia, the Mountbatten is now the product of Polish technology company Harpo, creator of the BraillePen 12 and BraillePen Slim.

Quick View of the Mountbatten Braille Writer:

Each Mountbatten brailler ships with the following items:

  • Power adapter
  • USB cable
  • Two 9-pin serial cables
  • Standard printer cable
  • Mimic Visual Display
  • Mountbatten braille translation software CD
  • Installation CD
  • PC communication installation instructions
  • Mountbatten communications software user manual

The machine comes with a protective plastic cover over the embossing head. Lift up on the back to pop it off. Then lift the paper bail to remove the protective paper insert.

On the front of the unit, you'll find the power switch, audio volume and speed controls, a specialized keyboard connection port, and a pullout carrying handle.

On top, above the keyboard, are rollers to advance the paper bail.

The Mountbatten keyboard has six keys (colored black) that correspond to the six dots of the braille cell. There are seven additional keys:

  • Space key
  • Backspace
  • New line
  • Command key
  • Right Function
  • Left Function
  • Enter (or End Command).

On the right side are ports for the Mimic Visual Display (used by sighted teachers) and for connecting to a computer. On the left are jacks for two adapters and headphones. The back panel contains serial, printer, and PS 2 keyboard adapter ports.

Mountbatten Factory Default Settings & Command Key Activation:

The Mountbatten Command key is disabled as beginning students often hit it by mistake reaching up to read what they've brailled.

To enable the key, simultaneously press the Left Function, New Line, Space, and Right Function keys till you hear, "Command on." Press the same keys again to disable it.

The default setting for Mountbatten's "Learn Mode" -- which speaks aloud each braille character as it is typed -- is "On." The mode helps beginning students learn the keyboard an the basics of the braille alphabet. "Learn Mode" can't recognize all braille contractions. Hearing these requires a synthetic speech program.

The Mimic shows the teacher what a student is brailling on a four-line LCD display. The device also stores all information students enter.

Connect Mimic using the 9-pin serial port on the right of the unit. The one on the back does not work. When activated, you will hear, "Good day...not charging...learn Mode." The Mountbatten finds Mimic automatically.

You can restore all factory default settings using the “Space,” “Command,” “Dot 5,” and “Enter” keys. Hold down all four keys, power on, wait for the print head to start moving, and then release. If you do not hear the unit say it is in “Learn Mode,” the reset failed.

Mountbatten Braille Advvantages:

The Mountbatten Brailler offers several advantages to learning, teaching, and promoting braille literacy.

  • Ease of Use: Less force is needed to use an electronic keyboard -- a plus for children; the Mountbatten has a "Return key," not a carriage return lever, as with the Perkins brailler.
  • Text-to-Speech & PC Integration:The Mountbatten's built-in memory and PC connectivity make braille more accessible to teachers and students, who hear what they've just typed; ease of translation makes braille more immediate, familiar, and less daunting.
  • Product Variety: Models include the basic Mountbatten Writer, the Mountbatten Writer Plus, the Mountbatten Pro, and the Mountbatten Learning System

Mountbatten Brailler Limitations:

The Mountbatten is a product with proven effectiveness as a teaching tool -- especially for young children. Compared with a Perkins brailler, however, it has limitations:

  • Price: The Mountbatten starts at$2,700; a Perkins costs $750
  • Maintenance & Availability: The Mountbatten incorporates hardware and software and requires electricity. A damaged part or power outage means no braille.
  • Size: The Mountbatten's size and weight can make it cumbersome for children, its primary users.
  • Perceived Limited Life Cycle: For the price, competent braille readers often opt for a BrailleNote or similar device offering more web integration and portability

An ideal situation would include a Mountbatten for learning, a Perkins brailler as a backup, and a digital device -- such as a BrailleNote or BraillePen + iPhone -- for access and portability.

Faced with funding challenges, the reliability of a Perkins brailler and iPhone popularity among the blind makes purchase of a Mountbatten increasingly hard to justify.

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