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Anticipated refreshable Braille reader launches, seeking to disrupt the market

The Orbit Reader 20 refreshable Braille device has been released in the UK, aiming to transform the current market by offering the technology to blind and visually impaired people at a low cost.

The device features 20 refreshable eight-dot Braille cells and can connect to Apple, Windows, Android and Kindle devices. Books and other texts (such as sheet music or magazines) in any language can be read from an SD card (the device also comes with a range of books and a dictionary pre-installed on an SD card). The Reader also offers basic note-taking, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and is compatible with widely used screen-readers, including Jaws, NVDA and VoiceOver.

The device is now available for UK audiences to buy and is being sold exclusively through RNIB. Along with other sight loss charities, RNIB is a member of the Transforming Braille Group (TBG), who helped develop the Orbit Reader. TBG was formed in 2014 to help produce an affordable refreshable Braille device and increase global access to the technology.

Claire Maxwell, Senior Product Developer at RNIB, spoke to e-Access Bulletin about the Orbit Reader 20 and explained what makes refreshable Braille devices appealing to users. She said: “Only 7% of books are available in hard copy Braille. Refreshable Braille devices offer the user the possibility of accessing a much wider range of information, from novels to music. Refreshable Braille can also be easier to read. The quality of the Braille dots does not fade over time, as can occur with paper Braille, and typical refreshable devices only have one line of Braille, making it easier for beginners.”

A key part of the Orbit Reader’s appeal for many will be its price: £449 excluding VAT (which applies to blind and partially sighted people or someone buying on their behalf) or £538.80 including VAT. This is considerably lower than most other refreshable Braille devices on the market, with many costing over £1,500 and upwards.

Maxwell said that its lower cost is due to “a new type of Braille cell technology” and its lack of internal translation, which means that users “must either access prepared content on an SD card or connect to an external device that uses a Braille translation package,” she said.

The device works through mechanical Braille, generated by computer-driven pins to translate digital text, and makes a slight sound when the Braille refreshes.

The Orbit Reader 20 was first announced by then-Chair of RNIB Kevin Carey at the CSUN technology conference in the United States in March 2016, and has been the subject of much anticipation and speculation since then (read E-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of the Orbit Reader, featuring an interview with Kevin Carey).

Speaking about the long-term aims for the device, Maxwell said: “The Orbit Reader has already achieved part of its goal – to lower the cost of refreshable Braille technology. It has also disrupted the wider market and we are now seeing different suppliers following suit with other low-cost devices.

“The other goal is to offer refreshable Braille technology to those in the developing world. RNIB is committed to achieving this and has already allocated 500 units to be distributed to countries where access to Braille is limited by cost implications.”

Find out more about the Orbit Reader 20 at the RNIB website.


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