By Chantelle Griffiths, Blind Foundation Braille Awareness Coordinator

Until recently, it’s been difficult to get electronic braille into the hands of those who need it most: people who are not working or studying or who can’t afford the latest technology, but for whom braille is their primary literacy medium.

A new device aims to change that by providing a more affordable braille solution that integrates with the technology people already use every day, while also providing a virtual pen, paper and basic book reader for those who need a little bit of extra functionality.

It’s called the Orbit Reader 20, developed by Orbit Research and the Transforming Braille Group, and it’s now available in New Zealand through the Blind Foundation.

The Orbit is a small, light-weight braille display with 20 braille cells. It connects to other devices like computers or smartphones via USB or Bluetooth, and can store documents on an SD card for reading or editing on the go.

“So many people want braille,” says Dawn Coleman, a long-term braille user and Blind Foundation member. “People who are sighted have access to pens, paper and $99 tablets. But for us to have the same access to literacy and information, the cost is often prohibitive and has prevented people from getting modern equipment that meets their needs.”

Dawn’s daughter Leyna works as a braille proof reader for the Blind Foundation, and the three braille readers in their family now all have Orbits and use them every day.

“It’s always in my bag,” says Leyna. “I use it every day for work and at home, and it’s so easy to write things down whenever I need to.”

Dawn has also found a wide variety of uses for her Orbit. “I use it for everything from recipes, to shopping and to-do lists. I also connect it to my mobile phone and computer to read email, write text messages and even play games. I can now read and write in braille whenever and wherever I need to.”

“I was blown away by the quality of braille,” says Leyna. “It’s great for kids and those who have a firmer touch when reading.”

Leyna says the Orbit will have an enormous impact for people who don’t have access to funding for braille equipment, or who have not been able to use braille since they were at school.

“It gives people access to braille that they otherwise may not have. And because it can be used by itself, or connected with today’s existing mainstream technology, it’s versatile and can fit around your lifestyle and needs.”

“The Orbit is great for new learners,” says Dawn, “because it’s simple to learn and use, and the quality of braille is clear and easy to feel.”

The Orbit Reader 20 is available from the Blind Foundation’s Equipment Shop and retails for $650.

If you would like to find out more about learning or using braille, or for a demonstration and more information about the Orbit, call us on 0800 24 33 33 and ask about the braille services we offer.