Revolutionary ereader Canute hopes to boost Braille literacy

Revolutionary ereader Canute hopes to boost Braille literacy

Revolutionary and radically affordable, this Braille ereader is long overdue.

The pitch

Affordable Braille is essential for blind literacy, education and employment, yet Braille use has been declining for decades due to stagnant technology. Canute is a revolutionary and radically affordable Braille ereader, designed with, by and for the blind community to hep solve this dilemma.

Canute shows a full page of text rather a single line, meaning it can be used to teach mathematical and scientific formulas and show textbooks in digital Braille in the proper form for the first time. "Over 2016 we ran field tests with schools, blind professionals, educators and students, honing the design to have the greatest impact on the lives and educations of young blind people," explains Ed Rogers, founder and managing director.

The team

Bristol Braille is a Social Enterprise centred in the Bristol Hackspace. The thirteen-strong Canute team has been building the product for five years and incorporates all manner of backgrounds and skills.

"Some of us are engineers, designers, others specialise in supporting accessible products," Rogers reports. "All of us came through either the Hackspace or the Braille reading community. Everyone on the team is deeply committed to see the project through to completion and have often volunteered their labour when the project was struggling. We also rely very heavily on the feedback, design and knowledge of a community group of 270 Braille readers called the Braillists."

The Canute team. Front, left to right: Russ Couper, Canute Mk8, Nic Marshall. Back, left to right: Ed Rogers, Kaspar Bumke, Jasmine Butt, Matt Venn, Jon Pillai, Jonny Taphouse

What's the gap in the market?

While education is becoming increasingly reliant on computers and technology, Braille technology has stagnated. Today only 4% of blind or visually impaired children in the UK are Braille literate, thereby limiting spelling, grammar, mathematics, the sciences and programming. Only 12% of maths and 8% of science GCSE textbooks in England are available in Braille or other accessible formats.

"The absence of affordable Braille seriously restricts opportunities to become literate, even damaging the value of literacy itself," Rogers says. "Our projects will help reverse the decline in blind literacy, making a huge difference to the lives of thousands of children who would otherwise be critically disadvantaged.

"Our ultimate goal is to have refreshable Braille that is affordable for every blind child and adult, anywhere in the world, and to see a measurable improvement in literacy as a result."

Success so far?

Late last year we ran tests with a prostigeous specialist school for blind children called New College Worcester. Describing the students’ reaction to Canute, Sean Randall, IT specialist and teaching assistant at New College Worcester, said;

“The kids were gob smacked. Canute is the only device we know of that renders up to nine Braille lines on a single display. Multiline Braille provides blind students with a greater appreciation for: page layout, tables, mathematics, music notation and computer code. These are all fields where blind people can be gainfully employed.” 

Biggest challenges?

There is a reason the Canute technology has remained undeveloped for forty years - it's really tough to build. "Our biggest challenge is building the mechanism," Roger says. "It requires nine times as much Braille as the existing displays, over a thousand moving parts and extreme precision, all to create a machine that costs half of anything else on the market."

Ultimate ambition?

The team's ambition is simple, but bold, and passionately held: "we want to help reverse the decline in Braille literacy."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Do not allow your goals to grow. Don't let what you are proposing become more complex just because that makes it more exciting. Its far better to complete something simple, at some point this millenium, and be told by your customers what more they want from you next time, than to assume you need to be great in every particular and find your ambitions endlessly postponed."