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Future Affordable Refreshable Braille Display

From the press release:

Orbit Research LLC and the Transforming Braille Group LLC are pleased to announce an agreement to produce a low cost, refreshable braille display. Orbit, an international engineering company based in Wilmington, Delaware, specializing in high quality, low cost products for blind and partially sighted people, will be undertaking the research, development and manufacture of this unique product.

The Transforming Braille Group LLC is a global consortium of organizations of and for the blind which is investing $1m in the project.

The objective of the project is to produce a stand-alone 20-cell refreshable braille display for $300 (or £200) which will bring refreshable braille within the reach of children in developing countries and will provide libraries in developed countries with a viable alternative to hard copy braille. The product will be launched at CSUN in 2016.

I really want this to be true, and maybe it will be. The red flag that it sends up for me, personally, is the abundance of hype with no details on this new technology and only a promise to have it ready for CSUN in 2016, about eighteen months from now.

I want to believe, but for now, color me skeptical. If they pull it off, and the device itself is rugged and of reasonable build quality, then this will be one of the biggest game changers in assistive tech in many, many years. If they don’t pull it off, or the device itself is even less durable than models five times the price, then I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised.

I’m also concerned with the angle that the press release seems to be taking in terms of who their market is. Providing Braille to the blind in developing countries is fantastic; offering an alternative to libraries to hard copy Braille is also great. I’m alarmed by a total lack of recognition that there are a great many blind technology users who do not have Braille displays even in developing nations because the models currently on the market are far beyond what they can hope to reasonably afford.

I want to believe. I want this product to be the game changer it could be. I’ve long said that the cost of Braille is the biggest contributing factor to the decline of literacy in the blindness community, and I’ve criticized the organizations for not investing their considerable resources toward solving this problem.

Here’s hoping, but this release is long on hype and short on details that actually matter.