Braille was invented in 1829 to allow blind people to read by running their fingers over a pattern of raised dots. This enabled literacy among blind people to improve rapidly, especially when children began to learn Braille at an early age. With literacy came employment: recent US statistics showed that 90% of visually-impaired people who were Braille-literate were employed, as opposed to only 33% of those who were not.
Braille literacy in an internet world is expensive. What is needed is a low cost ‘Braille reader’ – a device which connects to a computer and acts like a refreshable Braille printout. Currently devices like this are expensive and out of reach for most visually-impaired people.
In 2011, Ed Rogers founded Bristol Braille Technology (BBT), a not-for-profit company working, to create a low cost, refreshable Braille reader. The world’s first multiline refreshable Braille ebook reader, “Canute”, will cost less than a fraction of the price of existing single-line displays. A visually-impaired person runs their fingers over the Canute Braille lines in exactly the same way they would over embossed Braille print. Canute then refreshes to display the next lines of the Braille text, using open source software and low cost components that can be serviced cheaply, including in developing countries.
The absolute key is the low price, around £400: Canute will help reverse the decline in Braille literacy by bringing digital Braille within financial reach of the average user for the first time.
To make Canute happen, Ed approached the WCIT Charity (through the IT Accessibility Panel); the WCIT Charity agreed to provide a percentage of the funding and made a grant of £3,000. WCIT has continued to provide mentoring and networking support. Great progress has been made and the next stage of development will begin this summer.
BBT seeks further funding to continue development to the point where it can distribute several dozen units to blind users before Christmas.