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Braille Displays Promise to Deliver the Web to the Blind

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Basic concept of North Carolina State University's hydraulic and latching polyvinylidene fluoride Braille dot.

North Carolina State University

The Web's wealth of information would lose some of its luster if you read it only one line at a time. Yet this is exactly how blind and other vision-impaired people today must experience the Web when they use electronic Braille displays connected to their computers.

Braille displays use electromechanically controlled pins, as opposed to the lights in a conventional computer monitor, to convey information. Here is how: Software gathers a Web page's content from the computer's operating system, converts the words and images into a digital version of Braille and then represents that via a touchable row of finger-sized rectangular cells lined up side by side like dominoes. Each cell has six or eight small holes through which rounded pins can extend and retract with the help of piezoelectric ceramic actuators to represent various Braille characters. Each time a person reads the row of Braille with his fingers (left to right), the pin configurations refresh to represent the next line of a Web page's text, and so on.

Breaking Braille barriers
Efforts to improve Web pages translated into Braille have progressed slowly because of the cost and complexity of Braille displays, but a team of North Carolina State University researchers in Raleigh has taken the first steps toward developing a device that would allow the blind to take better advantage of the Web and other computer applications. Instead of presenting electronic content one line at a time, this display would translate words and images into tactile displays consisting of up to 25 rows, each with 40 cells side by side. Braille readers would have multiple lines of text and numbers at their fingertips, enabling them to backtrack and review content more easily. Another possibility might be to present in Braille equations and other information that take up more than one line at a time.

From Scientific American
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