I have always used braille for reading, I started to learn it at a very young age and it has been a vital part of my academic success. I consider braille to be extremely important for any child with a visual impairment, particularly those who are blind or who have deteriorating vision. Not only does it give them a huge advantage in school but it also opens up opportunities for reading recreationally that they otherwise might never have had. I would also recommend learning braille to every single adult who is going blind, even if they only learn it to a level where it has functional use, for example labelling.
I have written about the importance of braille and how it changed my life before so it will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m very happy at the thought of a low cost refreshable braille display. Currently this technology costs upwards of £1000 for a basic display. More advanced products such as those with note taking and internet browsing capabilities can cost up to £5000. This makes even a simple braille display for reading out of reach of most blind people. Quite simply they are too expensive and unless you are in education and employment and can get someone to fund it the chances of you getting one are slim.
However, the transforming braille group has partnered with Orbit, a company producing low cost products for blind people, to research and make a braille display that will be affordable for all. The price of it will be $300, or £200, so remarkably cheaper than similar products that are currently available. The aim is to get it into developing countries to enable blind people there to have access to ebooks. This is definitely something I support, not only will it be easier for blind people to afford this technology it will also allow children in developing countries to have a better chance at an education if they are given access to this.
The display will have bluetooth and USB connectivity, meaning it can be paired with smartphones such as the iPhone and used with popular reading apps, for example Amazon kindle. It’s not designed to compete with the more expensive products, so won’t have extremely advanced features, but it will allow blind people who prefer reading in braille a simple and affordable way of doing so.
The product will be launched at CSUN 2016 and I’m very excited to see how it will develop. Hopefully this is the start of a real reduction in the cost of refreshable braille technologies. Braille doesn’t have to be outdated, to be neglected in favour of screen readers and other audio outputs. It can function perfectly well in this age of advanced technology if it is made affordable and accessible to people. I hope that this will also encourage schools to be more willing to teach students braille. It is a vital skill and they should not be denied it.