Notetakers and Non Display Based Personal Digital Assistant


an image of a braille note bt braille note taker





Notetakers or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are portable computers that are designed to act as organizers, note takers, and/or communication devices. Non-display based PDAs are often used by individuals who do not use touchscreens, handwriting recognition, or miniature keyboards. They have been designed specifically for individuals who have a visual impairment. 

Non display based personal digital assistants can have a QWERTY keyboard or Braille keybord for the inputting of text. They are also known as a portable information manager or note taking devices, as they provide a mobile method for taking, storing and retrieving notes. The main feature of this device is word processing, but also includes additional features such as:

  • Productivity suite (e.g. word processing software)
  • Email access
  • Calendar
  • Calculator and/or scientific calculator
  • Clock
  • Address list management
  • Internet browsers
  • Media players and book readers
  • Bluetooth & WiFi connectivity
  • Voice Memos
  • Feedback either through voice output or through INSERTLINKLATER refreshable Braille display
  • Connection to desktop or laptop computer so that information can be transferred between devices

Some models also have features like GPS, social network links, and visual display for real-time translation and viewing by sighted observers, peers or teachers.

Some students may require both a notetaker and a laptop or desktop computer system. A notetaker with a Braille keyboard allows the student to take notes and navigate quickly in Braille, while a laptop or tablet generally would require an external Braille display, reducing the portability and ease of use of the device.

Points to Ponder: Questions to consider when choosing a note taking device?

  • Features
    • What programs are built into the system? Can other programs added on or is the operating system closed?
    • Does it have a refreshable Braille display?
    • Can it connect to a monitor or display so that the menu and/or text can be read by a sighted teacher or support person?
    • Does it have expandable memory? Can it be connected to other storage media such as USB memory sticks and SD (secure digital) cards?
    • Do you need a Braille or QWERTY keyboard for input?
    • How many Braille cells are active on the display?
    • Does it have all of the features that user requires? Will a computer also be needed for certain tasks?
    • Are there shortcuts to open certain programs or complete certain actions?
    • What Braille grades and types does it support? (e.g., grade 1, 2, UEB, Nemeth, etc.)
    • Do you require a one-handed option?
    • Does it have extra keys that can be programmed with additional commands?
    • Compatibility
      • How complex is the menu structure? How easy is it to adjust settings?
      • Are the documents you create able to be easily saved in a format that can be shared or opened by others?
      • Usability
        • What is the physical layout of the keyboard and buttons? Do the buttons allow smooth and comfortable navigation without awkward movement?
        • What is the layout and size of the Braille keys if using a Braille keyboard? Does it have a physical keyboard, a touch keyboard, or both? If a touch keyboard, is there tactile feedback?
        • Are the buttons easy to tell apart (e.g., different sizes, tactile labels, different enough positions?)
        • Is the menu system organized and logical?
        • How easy it is to take with you if portability is required? (e.g., size, weight, carrying case, battery length)
        • Which file formats can it read? (e.g., PDFs, DOCX, PPT, Daisy, TXT, HTML, etc.)
        • Speech output
          • Can you customize the voice? (e.g., speech, pitch, volume, verbosity or how much speech feedback you wish to hear)?
          • What voices and synthesizers are available? What language are they? Can you download/purchase and install additional voices?
          • Will the speech feedback be disruptive in the environment? Are headphones needed?
          • Support
            • What is the warranty available for the technology? How are repairs handled? (e.g., is there someone in your area?)
            • How will you get support if you need it? (e.g., a technician in the school, a local vendor, by telephone, by email, remote access, etc.)
            • What is the payment method?



Manufacturers of Non Display Based PDAs

SNOW does not endorse any of the following software/hardware. These links are provided for information purposes only.

Freedom Scientific




Additional Useful Links

Did you know? PDAs have similarity to smartphones and tablets in functionality. If you want to know how you can access your phone with greater ease, visit the Mobile Accessibility section on SNOW.