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Archive for the 'Braille' Category

Countdown to the UK release of the first Braille smartwatch

The first Braille smartwatch for visually impaired people is planned to be shipped out to customers in May, after initially taking around 140,000 orders from customers around the world.

The Dot Watch lets users read messages through four Braille characters on the watch face. It connects to a user’s phone via Bluetooth and can then receive messages and notifications from services and apps on the phone, such as WhatsApp, Google Maps or traditional SMS texts.

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Hacking for good: the Hackaday Assistive Technology Prize winners in their own words

In July, e-Access Bulletin reported on the Hackaday Prize, a competition that asks designers, developers and hardware enthusiasts to “build something that matters” – something that can help people or change the world for the better.

Of particular interest for readers of the Bulletin is the Assistive Technology category. Earlier this month, 20 winning assistive technology projects were selected from hundreds of entries.

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Tactile Braille tablet brings pictures and content to life over 14 lines

A Braille tablet computer, thought to be the first of its kind available to the public, is about to be launched with a series of potentially game-changing features.

BLITAB is a tactile tablet computer designed for blind and visually impaired users, claimed to be the first such tablet by its developers. The design features a page of Braille over 14 lines, plus a smaller touch-screen below. Through the touch-screen, which has voice-navigation, users access the internet, email, documents and other content, which is then converted into Braille above. This includes pictures, graphics, maps and other images, which can all be represented on the Braille display.

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Low-cost refreshable Braille display set to revolutionise the market

A device that could become ‘the world’s most affordable refreshable Braille display’ – costing around 80-90% less than current systems – has been unveiled, and should be available for purchase later this year.

The Orbit Reader 20 was announced at the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference – known as CSUN – in the United States, by the Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Kevin Carey, in his role as president of the Transforming Braille Group (TBG).

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Innovations for independent living take a step forward

A Braille tablet computer, an online tool to seek out low-cost 3D-printed prosthetics and other projects to assist independent living were showcased earlier this month at the European Parliament.

The projects on display were part of an event in Brussels, ‘Accessible technology for independent living’, organised by the European Disability Forum and Google. Featured projects were supported by $20 million from the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities – a scheme funding non-profit ideas that utilise new technologies.
(Read more at the Google Impact Challenge website: http://eab.li/a .)

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Million Dollar boost for low cost Braille display

An international project to build a low-cost refreshable braille display for computers is reaching fruition, with new plans announced for a technology retailing at less than 20% of current prices.

Refreshable braille devices are formed of plastic “cells”, small grids of holes through which rods rise and fall, triggered by an electric current using a technology known as “piezoelectric”. A line of Braille forms as a computer reads across text.

Product mark-ups are currently high among the few specialist firms who manufacture the cells mainly in the far East, with each cell costing around 100 US Dollars and full displays reaching thousands. However the new project is being supported to the tune of $1m by the Transforming Braille Group (TBG), a global consortium of organisations of and for the blind, led by RNIB in the UK. Other members are American Printing House for the Blind; National Federation of the Blind; and Perkins School for the Blind in the US; The Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted; Sightsavers, Mumbai, India; Association Valentin HAüY, France; Blind Foundation in New Zealand; Vision Australia; and The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

The group has commissioned Orbit Research, an engineering company based in Delaware, US to develop and manufacture a stand-alone 20-cell refreshable braille display which would then retail at $300 (£200) – less than 20% of the current market price.

The display will be designed to work as a plug-in device through USB and Bluetooth connectivity with smartphones and tablets. It is intended primarily to bring e-books to a wider audience, but not to compete with more permanent, high-specification displays used in education and employment.

The investment plan was first hatched more than two years ago by Kevin Carey, chair of RNIB and TBG president, in a bid to bring refreshable braille within the reach of children in developing countries and provide libraries in all countries with a viable alternative to hard copy braille (see “Global investment plan for cheaper braille displays”, EAB issue 144, 23 January 2012).

Many groups in both the developed world and the developing world are currently spending large amounts on printed materials for Braille libraries, Carey told E-Access Bulletin this month. But if they were able to buy displays at £200 each, they could “massively reduce” the costs of bringing literature to braille readers, he said.

Group action to invest in a new solution was needed because of long-term market failure in the sector, Carey said. “My single aim has always been to destroy the floor price of refreshable Braille”, he said. “At the moment, almost all people buy Braille cells from a small number of suppliers at a fixed price, and mostly get their equipment funded by the public sector. The major suppliers have had their own way for the last 40 years, since piezoelectric cells were introduced in the 1970s. The market was just stuck.”

The move could also stimulate innovation by other major suppliers, leading to greater competition and even lower prices, Carey said. “It is immensely exciting for Western libraries but even more exciting for third world kids, who are currently using smartphones – having something read out or spelled word by word is not genuine literacy: it is much better to have kids read symbols than hearing them spoken.”

The group plans to launch the new product in 2016.

Great Expectations Of e-Book Access Demonstrations

Accessibility is “rising up the agenda” of the publishing industry as awareness grows of the value of helping people access electronic books in multiple formats, a publishing standards body said this month.

The statement came following a live demonstration of accessible readings from “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens at the London Book Fair in an event organised by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Publishers Licensing Society and EDitEUR – the trade standards body for the global book industry.

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Digital books in Italy: Reading Without Barriers

By Michele Smargiassi

They can’t see their books: maybe this is why they read them with such an extraordinary passion. On average, in Italy, a blind person reads 9.2 books a year, while among sighted Italians only two in ten people read so many. Six blind people out of ten read a few pages of a book at least once a week, while 53.2% of Italians never, ever, read. In short, the blind read much more than the sighted.

“The thirst for knowledge is strongest where there is a barrier,” says Orlando Paladino, president of the Unione Italiana Ciechi (Italian Union of the Blind). Or perhaps, where a barrier falls. The data outlined above from a new survey by the Italian Publishers’ Association (Associazione Italiana Editori – AIE: http://www.aie.it ) would probably have been very different 15 years ago, when it was impossible to read books on a computer, or to have them translated into Braille on a tactile display. (more…)

Global investment plan for cheaper Braille displays

An international plan for disability organisations and others to invest in producing a refreshable Braille device hugely cheaper than current systems on sale has obtained initial approval from the international DAISY consortium for information standards, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The project is being led by the RNIB, which now has until the next DAISY board meeting in June to flesh out the plan. If this “charter” is passed, investors will be sought to identify and back a new device.

Refreshable Braille devices are made up of individual plastic “cells” with a grid of tiny holes through which a small rod rises and falls, triggered by an electronic current. A line of cells forms into a line of Braille as a computer reads across text.

As their production process is complex, cells currently cost around 100 US Dollars each, and mark-ups are high among the few firms which manufacture displays. With typical displays carrying 32, 40 and even 80 cells, overall costs soon spiral into thousands of dollars.

Kevin Carey, chair of RNIB, said this month there are already currently as many as 34 technical ideas in outline or prototype format at universities worldwide, any of which might lead to the desired goal of a cheap Braille display roughly the size of a stick of rock that could plug into the side of an e-book player.

“We need to narrow these 34 down to two or three – and ideally go down to one – and get massive investment in to bring prices down below 25 US Dollars per cell”, Carey said. At the moment, no business model had been ruled in or out for investment, production and sales, including models requiring mass pre-ordering and the involvement of existing major incumbent players in the Braille display market.

Carey first floated the plan in an address to last year’s “Braille21” congress hosted by the World Blind Union in Leipzig, Germany.

He told the congress a cheap display would “save massive amounts from hard copy Braille production which can be ploughed back into expanding the range of files on offer and into providing displays cheap or free to individuals.”

Anticipating complaints about market interference, Carey told the Leipzig conference the high prices operated in a similar way to a cartel, requiring intervention. “There are some who say that organisations of and for the blind should not become involved in the access technology market but the current cartel does not have an automatic right to exist. For the last 30 years of its operations the price of Braille displays has fallen slowly when most other consumer electronics prices have plunged.”

Ultimately, the very survival of Braille as a language could be at stake, he warned. “If Braille is to survive into the 21st Century, it will have to re-invent itself as a mass medium, simpler, cheaper and easier to render… unless we face up to these challenges, Braille will die”.