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Canute: reinvigorating Braille

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Canute is a prototype digital Braille e-book reader developed by Bristol Braille Technology (BBT).

Astonishingly, despite the fact that Braille quite literally is the alphabet to the 35M people around the world who are blind, there is no affordable way to translate digital content into the format and as the world moves increasingly online, leaving blind people to rely instead on text-to-speech software.

With dwindling opportunities to learn or exercise Braille (just 7% of the world’s printed books are translated into Braille), the result has been a dramatic fall in blind people’s literacy: only 4% of blind children in UK schools and 5% of the 360,000 registered blind in the UK can now read the format. Academics say this halves their likelihood of finding a job.

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Nominet Trust is funding BBT to take their Canute prototype, just tested by the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, Irish National Braille and Alternative Formats Association and user group the Braillists, through proof-of-concept iterations and into manufacture.

Canute uses a Raspberry Pi computer running Raspbian Linux to generate four lines of the six-dot ‘hard’ Braille on a refreshable screen. Because it is built using off-the-shelf components easily assembled anywhere in the world it will cost just £300-£440, compared to the digital braille displays already on the market using ‘piezoelectric cells’ which cost thousands of pounds. Canute’s design is all open source, textual and can be edited by blind designers on the Canute itself. An extended trial is scheduled to start in May 2015.

Bristol Braille Technology has been approved for funding from Nominet Trust. Funding is subject to successfully completing our project initiation process.