Game-Changing Innovations, Part 2

Refreshable braillers (braille displays)

A Braille display turns electronic print into braille, using pins that pop up and down to reveal a line of braille text.

Dedicated braille displays can be used with laptops or desktop computers.  For more portability, standalone notetakers often include Braille displays for reading and writing, and some of them also have synthesized speech built in as another output option.

Betty Nobel on how she uses braille in daily life (1:28)

Braille displays have been expensive, ranging in price from $2,400 to $10,000.  A breakthrough in braille technology came in 2016 with a new, low cost braille reader called the Orbit Braille Reader 20.  CNIB was part of the 10-organization consortium that took on the challenge of developing this reader, and making braille technology widely available, including to users in developing countries.

Braille continues to be vital, even though many blind and partially sighted people read by sound. The reason: braille provides literacy in the form of reading written words.  It presents readers with the conventions of spelling, punctuation, paragraphing and footnotes.  Further, braille instructional materials, and braille music and mathematical code provide readers with access to education, cultural, and recreational activities.

It’s great to receive phone calls from people all over the world, who say, ‘You’ve changed my life, I’ve got a job now
— Milan Hudecek

Eureka computer

The Eureka A4 was the world’s first talking laptop computer designed specifically for blind or partially sighted users.  It included standard computer features such as word processing, educational and personal organizer functions and a sophisticated music composer, but it was operated with a braille keyboard which repeated in audio each character, word, or sentence.  The inventor was Milan Hudecek, a Czech immigrant to Australia, who was looking for an application for a homemade speech synthesizer.  Australia’s Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind assisted him with funding.  “It’s great to receive phone calls from people all over the world, who say, ‘You’ve changed my life, I’ve got a job now.’ Or ‘Now I’m studying at university.’ It’s great, the feeling of being useful to society,” Hudacek told the Australian Telegraph in 1990. That same year CNIB awarded the Winston Gordon Award to Milan Hudecek, of Melbourne Australia, for the Eureka A4 computer.

The smartphone

The iPhone was a true game-changer when it appeared in 2007. It was the first off-the-shelf device to offer a rich array of accessibility features.  Apple began this with its operating system, iOS, and other smartphone manufacturers have followed, making these pocket-sized computers enablers of independence. As well as built-in screen magnifiers and screen readers, smartphone apps decode paper money, provide text-to-speech voice assistance, take dictation, facilitate texting, and support physical navigation.  Previously, assisted devices were purpose-built for people with disabilities. Smartphones offer universal accessibility.

Kim Kilpatrick describes the transformative power of her smart phone (0:55)