Refreshable Braille display

From Academic Kids

A refreshable Braille display is an electro-mechanical device for displaying Braille characters, usually by means of raising dots through holes in a flat surface. The display sits under the computer keyboard. It is used to present text to computer users who are blind and cannot use a normal computer monitor. Speech synthesizers are also commonly used for the same task, and a blind user may switch between the two systems depending on circumstances.

Because of the complexity of producing a reliable display that will cope with daily wear and tear, these displays are expensive. Usually, only 40 or 80 Braille cells are displayed. Models with 18-40 cells exist in some notetaker devices.

On some models the position of the cursor is represented by vibrating the dots, and some models have a switch associated with each cell to move the cursor to that cell directly.

The mechanism which raises the dots uses the piezo effect: Some crystals expand, when a voltage is applied to them. Such a crystal is connected to a lever, which in turn raises the dot. There has to be such a crystal for each dot of the display, i.e eight per character.

The software, that controls the display is called a screen reader. It gathes the content of the screen from the operation system, converts it into braille characters and sends it to the display. Screen readers for graphical operation systems are especially complex, because graphical elements like windows or slidebars have to be interpreted and described in text form.

A new development, called the rotating-wheel Braille display, was developed in 2000 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and is still in the process of commercialization. Braille dots are put on the edge of a spinning wheel, and allows the blind user to read continuously with a stationary finger while the wheel spins at a selected speed. The Braille dots are set in a simple scanning-style fashion as the dots on the wheel spins past a stationary actuator that sets the Braille characters. As a result, manufacturing complexity is greatly reduced and rotating-wheel Braille displays will be much more inexpensive than traditional Braille displays.

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