Commentary: An Affordable Braille Tablet for the Blind

Jan. 19, 2016

Recently, the media has been talking a great deal about a Braille tablet being developed at the University of Michigan. While the new device will not be released to the general public anytime soon, researchers hope to come up with a prototype to make future Braille tablets more affordable. Current Braille displays consist of a special motor and plastic pins that pop up to form Braille characters. The new prototype would use liquid or air to create bubbles that would make each Braille letter or number. According to researchers, this would result in a more portable and affordable Braille device.

To be honest, I’m usually very skeptical about newly developed prototypes of devices to help the blind and visually impaired. The first example that comes to mind is that of new navigation tools. Lately, I have read a lot about new vibrating canes and shoes that will supposedly help us find our way more easily. While the ideas behind these prototypes are great, I am just not sure how they will work or help me in real life situations.

The complete opposite is true about the tablet being developed at Michigan University, however. I strongly believe it has the enormous potential of being a game changer for those of us who read Braille. For one, it will benefit young students who are just beginning to learn Braille and other academic subjects. Sighted students now learn science and math concepts by using tablets and other technologies, so it would be wonderful for blind and visually impaired students to also read math problems and have tactile renderings of pictures on tablets. This would encourage the use of Braille among young students and give them instant access to visual materials.

Blind adults would also benefit from this new tablet. The technology used in the prototype promises to be cost-effective, and researchers hope that this will lead to an affordable device. Currently, Braille displays can cost several thousands of dollars due to their expensive and sophisticated technology. Another major drawback is that these displays only show one line of Braille at once, therefore making reading more tedious. The developers hope to make a prototype that will be portable while having the capability of showing an entire Braille page. Best of all, the tablet would cost under a thousand dollars – that’s a great deal if you ask me!

As a Braille reader who fully embraces technology, I applaud the effort being put into this new prototype. I see a lot of potential for its success, and hope it will soon be in the market. Smart devices are revolutionizing the way we communicate and learn, and an affordable Braille tablet is long overdue. Mainstream tablets are becoming more and more accessible, but it sure will be nice to have one with Braille for blind and visually impaired individuals who prefer or need to read using this system. Better yet, I hope that by having an accessible and affordable tablet, future generations of blind individuals will have more access to print materials. This, I think, is a basic right we all deserve.

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