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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Braille Technology

Blind or visually impaired people who read braille can use the following specialized equipment:

  • Braille display technology which provides access to the information on a computer screen in braille.
  • Braille printers that provide hardcopy information from computer devices.
  • Electronic braille notetakers that provide a powerful alternative to mechanical notetakers such as the Perkins Brailler or slate and stylus.

Braille Displays

These devices operate by raising and lowering different combinations of pins electronically to produce in braille what appears on a portion of the computer screen. They show up to 80 characters from the screen and are refreshable, that is, they change continuously as the user moves around on the screen. The braille display sits on the user's desk, often underneath the computer keyboard. The advantage of the braille display in comparison to synthetic speech is in its direct access to information, the ability to check format, spacing and spelling, and the fact that it is quiet. The cost of braille displays is in the $3,500 to $15,000 price range, depending on number of characters displayed.

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Braille Printers

After being sent information to be brailled from computer devices, braille printers do the actual embossing of braille onto paper. They are the braille counterpart to ink printers but they differ in that they use solenoids to control embossing pins, they typically print on heavy weight paper and require more pages than print, and they are much slower and noisier. Interpoint printers emboss braille on both sides of the page. The price of a braille printer is directly related to the volume of braille production required—between $1,800 and $5,000 for smaller volume production and between $10,000 and $80,000 for larger volume production.

The first step in converting a computer file into a braille document is to choose the type of braille. Computer braille is a one-to-one representation of what appears on the screen, grade 1 braille consists of letters, numbers and punctuation marks, and grade 2 braille includes contractions of common combinations of letters and words. To print grade 2 braille requires the use of a braille translation program which takes the computer text file, inserts the proper contractions, and formats the document properly for the braille page. The cost of braille translation programs is between $200 and $500, depending on the sophistication of the program.

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Short Videos

To view a short video about braille transcribing software and braille embossers choose the following link.

Electronic Braille Notetakers

Electronic braille notetakers are small, portable devices with braille keyboards for entering information. They use a speech synthesizer or braille display for output. The user enters the information on the braille keyboard and has the option of transferring it to a larger computer with more memory, reviewing it using the built in speech synthesizer or braille display, or printing it on a braille or inkprint printer. The cost of a basic electronic braille notetaker is between $1000 and $3,000 with the option of products containing more sophisticated features that can cost up to $15,000.

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Short Videos

To view a short video about accessible PDAs choose the following link.

For more information on braille technology, including copies of evaluations of braille displays, braille printers, and electronic braille notetakers, contact AFB TECH at (304) 523-8651.

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