How Technology is Changing Reading for the Blind

Refreshable_Braille_displayI am a convert (someone who didn’t believe but now does). For a very long time, I resisted reading electronic books. I like the look of physical books, I like the smell of them, and I even like the little yellowing that occurs on the pages in old books.

But a couple of years ago, I broke down (finally gave up) and bought an electronic book reader and downloaded reading apps (computer programs used most often with smartphones and tablet computers) onto my smart phone. Almost from the first (immediately), I could see the benefits of ebook reading. I can carry a lot of books around with me, I could change the fonts, and I could even read in low (not bright) light.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that ebook technology has also changed how the blind (people unable to see) read. Most Americans who are blind learn to read using the braille system. The braille system uses a series of dots (like a period ” . “) that represent letters. Each set of dots is called a “cell” and dots themselves are referred to as “raised dots,” with “raised” meaning higher than the area around it.

Using a device (electronic piece of equipment, usually a small one) called a refreshable braille display like the one in the photo above, each cell changes as the device “reads” different text. For example, one dot raised in the left corner of a cell represents the letter “a.” When the refreshable display is attached to a computer or similar device, the display turns the text into braille.

That’s where current technology comes in. New reading apps allow readers to download books they want to read onto a smartphone, tablet, or computer. When these devices are connected to a refreshable braille reader, a blind person has access to anything a sighted (not blind) person does. This has opened a larger world of reading for the blind.

We have the Frenchman Louis Braille to thank for the braille system, and technology and app developers (people who create apps and computer programs) to thank for opening up this new resource for an entire population of readers. I have an even greater appreciation of these advances knowing what they have achieved.

Is the braille system used in the languages you know? If not, what systems are used?

– Lucy

Photo Credit: Refreshable Braille Display from Wikipedia

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6 Responses to How Technology is Changing Reading for the Blind

  1. Dan says:

    Hi everyone,

    Hey Lucy, I get to smell paper and inks every day, and I even eat some paper’s dust.

    When I bought my E-reader it was for the simplicity of getting books in English, just with a few clicks.

    Previously, I had to drive to the near city and the English books covered just a few shelves.

    Even though this technology is probably going to be a contributing factor of me loosing my job, I think it is awesome.

    In fact I am a worker of a struggling publishing company as many others out there wiped out from new technologies and globalization.

    I am not complaining! things get changed as it is right to be.

    I watched some demo of the refreshable braille display on Youtube, and you can even write with it! that is cool.

    Thank you Lucy, I will probably be writing more during the next days, something off topic, hope you do not mind.


  2. emiliano says:

    He dear Lucy, wolcome to the world of ebook converts.
    Cuca, Eva and me are converts too.

    Yes, here the braille system is used too, in fact there is a large and
    good Organization to help blind people called “The ONCE” Organizacion
    Nacional de Ciegos, “The Blind National Organization” and it is one
    the best organizations to teach blind people and give them a high
    education to work or study, Fortunately these people are not alone
    just since the moment they are born or have the lack of sight.

    Thanks Lucy and again welcome.

  3. elcomandant says:

    To be honest, I don’t like ebooks. I never liked them. I prefer read traditional books and smell them. It is true too that I’m a sighted person and I don’t have much time to read.

    Having said this, I think it’s a great thing what this device can do for blind people. I’m glad for that.

    Refreshable braille display had to be appeared and launched earlier. Just at the same time that ebbok was. But we all know that the world moves for money. Who can deny it?. Minorities aren’t so profitable to companies precisely for being minorities. It’s for that, that would be great if people, I mean the governments, spend more money, much more money, (financing, subsidizing or giving support) to make things that make life of minorities better.

    Definitively Refreshable braille display is a very very very good device for blind people. I’m sure that it makes them much happier.

    Greetings. 😀

  4. Dan says:


    Come on! do not be so “cynical”

    I deny that and refuse to believe that.

    I do not what moves us, maybe money is a huge driving force, but it is not all money.

    Just look at this website! I do not believe they make all that money. I think that behind Lucy Jeff and Warren there is more, I kind of sense that, thankfully for ourselves.

    Just because we are in a public blog, otherwise I would have written f@#k money, it is just something we introduced it is nothing.

    Thank you

  5. Dan says:

    Hey, Hi.

    It’s three AM and I cannot sleep. Worked the night shift this last week, so now I am used of staying awake at night.

    What am I doing here!?

    My little companions had something to eat and now are scattered here and there, always behind me.

    Ho has cats knows what it is like..

    Well, I guess I am going at that gold mine that is Youtube and watch a few videos.

    Thank guys, take kare.

  6. Maurizio says:

    … Does that mean ESL guide in ePub format coming soon?

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