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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).

TBG was conceived to realise and produce an affordable refreshable Braille display, partly as a way to give people in developing countries greater access to refreshable Braille. Current devices are prohibitively expensive, often running into thousands of US Dollars or British Pounds. TBG set about raising 1.25 million US Dollars for the Orbit Reader 20 to be produced by assistive technology company Orbit Research (further background in a previous e-Access Bulletin at the following link: http://eab.li/v ).

Refreshable Braille displays allow blind or visually impaired users to read text from a computer screen via a system of small rods in Braille cells. These rods are electronically raised and lowered, creating readable Braille that constantly changes, or ‘refreshes’, as the user scrolls or moves across the screen.

The Orbit Reader 20 features 20 Braille cells and can be connected to a computer or mobile phone via USB or Bluetooth. There is also an SD card slot to enable loading and reading of books and other files.

Speaking to e-Access Bulletin, Carey explained that the aim is for the Orbit Reader 20 to be sold for $320 per unit, but this is dependant on Orbit Research receiving enough pre-orders for the device: “Orbit need an order of 200,000 to make the optimum price of $320 a unit, so what they’re doing is collecting wholesale orders. If it’s below 200,000, the price goes up,” Carey said.

On its website, Orbit Research claims that the Orbit Reader 20 will be the “world’s most affordable refreshable Braille display”.

User-testing of the Orbit Reader took place in January on 27 prototype machines, in North America and Europe, by testers both with and without experience of refreshable Braille systems. Carey will be supervising further testing in India and Kenya. Speaking about the results of this testing in his CSUN speech, Carey said that the refreshable Braille on the Orbit Reader was “the best that experienced users have ever seen”.

The refresh rate on the device was found to be suitable for “poor-to-average” Braille-users, but not effective enough for “experienced users”. However, as Carey then pointed out: “Those who have reported dissatisfaction with the refresh rate are very experienced users of high-end refreshable Braille note-takers or Braille bars attached to generic devices – but it is important to note that these are precisely the Braille readers for whom the Orbit Reader was not designed.” (Read Kevin Carey’s CSUN speech in full at the Transforming Braille Group’s website: http://eab.li/r .)

Carey told e-Access Bulletin that the device could be revolutionary for visually impaired Braille-users due to its low cost. “Whichever way you look at it, the [price] is just way below anything anybody else is offering,” he said. Carey also pointed out that the timing of when the Orbit Reader will be available, “is simply to do with how fast the orders come in [to Orbit Research].”

The Orbit Reader 20 isn’t yet available to purchase by the general public, but Orbit Research’s website says that the device will be available in “late 2016”. It appears that when it does go on sale, the Reader will be sold through the website of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), one of the shareholders in the project.

Find out more about the Orbit Reader 20 at the links below:

Orbit Research website:
http://eab.li/s .

APH website:
http://eab.li/u .

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