Perkins Smart Brailler helps the blind learn to type, closes the digital divide

Most digital Braille devices are built on the assumption that the legally blind already know how to write in the format -- if they don't, they're often forced back to the analog world to learn. PDT and Perkins hope to address that longstanding technology gap with the Perkins Smart Brailler. Going digital lets Perkins build in lessons for newcomers as well as provide immediate audio feedback (visual for writers with borderline vision) and text-to-speech conversion to give even an old hand a boost. Logically, the leap into the modern world also allows transferring documents over USB along with traditional Braille printouts. Smart Braillers will cost a weighty $1,995 each when they first ship in September, but it's hard to put a price tag on mastering communication and fully joining the digital generation.


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New Leading-Edge Tech Device Helps People Who Are Blind Learn Braille

Product development leader PDT partners with Perkins Products to bring first-of-its-kind technology to the world's most widely used braille writer, improving quality of life for people who are blind

CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--PDT, a leading product development firm, has worked with Perkins Products to equip the world's most widely used braille writer with first-of-its-kind multi-sensory technology designed to make learning and teaching braille easier. Literacy through braille is critical to enabling people who are blind to find employment and achieve financial independence.

The new Perkins SMART Brailler® will start shipping to U.S. consumers in September and is expected to have a significant impact. It was developed in conjunction with the American Printing House for the Blind. Approximately 11.4 million Americans are blind or visually impaired, according to the World Health Organization, and one person goes blind every 11 minutes. Those numbers are expected to jump as the baby boomer generation ages, overall life expectancy increases, and medical advances make it possible for more babies to survive premature birth.

"We know that reading braille can be the difference between employment and unemployment for people who are blind. But there aren't enough ways for people to learn braille," said John Freese, PDT Program Manager. "What PDT did was bring new technology together with an established Brailler to make it easy to learn braille, with the goal of empowering people who are blind to lead full and fulfilling lives."

Studies show that about 70 percent of people who are blind are unemployed or underemployed. Yet 80 percent of those who use braille are employed. Despite this, braille use has declined, in part due to a shift from specialized schools for people who are blind to mainstream schools where there are too few qualified teachers.

Current high-tech braille products only work if users already know braille. The new Perkins SMART Brailler® gets even new users connected instantly to braille. PDT worked with teachers, parents and consumers who are visually impaired throughout the roughly two-year development process. The SMART Brailler® features instantaneous audio and visual feedback and Acapela text-to-speech (in English, and a range of other languages), plus downloadable lessons for braille beginners, and electronic document saving, editing and transfer capability via USB. Because it is built around a Perkins Next Generation Brailler®, the new device also generates hard copy braille as the user types.

The impact will be felt worldwide. John Godber, Head of Products and Publications for the UK's Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), says, "This is the biggest step forward for learning braille since the invention of the Perkins Brailler" in 1951.

With this new assistive technology, sighted teachers, classmates and parents can also work alongside students, providing a new level of learning support and making the inclusion of students who are blind into mainstream classrooms far more possible than ever before. Perkins Products Vice President & General Manager David Morgan says, "We are convinced that this truly levels the playing field and de-mystifies the braille 'code' to allow a shared learning experience for all – student, parent, teacher, friend. Adults who are losing their sight get a big screen and large text to learn braille independently."

In 2008, PDT worked with Perkins Products to develop a lighter, more efficient and durable Next Generation Perkins Brailler that is now actively used in classrooms and homes around the world. Because the Perkins Brailler is used globally already, adaptation to the SMART version will be seamless. Special training is not required. Learn more at http://www.perkins.org/smartbrailler/.