My Impressions of the Orbit Reader 20

older woman wearing glasses and necklace, seated looking down

Editor’s note: Recently, Steve Kelley wrote The Holy Grail of Braille and discussed exciting new refreshable braille technology including the Orbit Reader 20. Peer Advisor Sandra Burgess has been part of the testing program of that device and tells us about her experience in this informative post.

Efforts to Make Braille More Affordable

Braille is such an incredible tool for the blind and for some with low vision. However, braille on paper is costly because it takes up more space than the printed word. For example, one month of "The Reader’s Digest" is comprised of four volumes. Braille displayed on an electronic display with dots that pop up and down to form characters is a less costly alternative. For the past 50 years, the downside to braille displays has been the extremely high cost—too expensive for many braille readers to afford. However, with the development of a new braille device, the cost of a display has gone down significantly.

In 2012, the Perkins School for the Blind joined with 12 other organizations throughout the world to form the Transforming Braille Group (TBG) whose aim was to discover a way to make braille more affordable. The end result is a new refreshable braille display, manufactured by Orbit Research, that costs around 70 percent less than other similar devices (Refreshable braille is a digital file on a computer or other electronic device that is read with a braille display. Refreshable braille remains crisp and legible to the touch.) The American Printing House for the Blind will sell it for $449.00.

Launching the Orbit Reader 20 Pilot Program

Orbit Reader 20

The Perkins Library, which is a member of the National Library Service under the Library of Congress obtained funds to purchase 200 Orbit Reader 20s and distribute them to patrons eager to participate in a yearlong pilot study. During the pilot, participants will be asked to give feedback regarding their experiences with this product. The hope is that Perkins and other National Library Service facilities will send these e-readers to patrons who can borrow library material on SD (secure digital) cards which are inserted into a slot on the back of the Orbit. I am one of the Massachusetts Perkins Library patrons who is currently testing the Orbit Reader 20.

Features Included

  • 20-cell refreshable braille display
  • Works as a stand-alone unit, connected to a computer via a USB port, or with Bluetooth
  • Compatible with screen readers
  • Write braille using input keys
  • Two rocker switches to scroll forward or backward by lines
  • Basic file management and note taking
  • Rechargeable battery the user can replace
  • Used with an iPhone or similar device, allows the user to access apps such as Facebook, Messenger, Kindle, iBooks, or Adobe Digital Editions books
  • Compatible with iOS and Android platforms
  • Four arrow keys and a select button
  • Sharp, firm dots that defy being pushed down when touched; the dot quality comparable to that on braille signage
  • Weight: approximately two pounds
  • Measures: 6.6 inches wide, 4.4 inches thick, and 1.4 inches tall

My Personal Impressions

I really like the compact design of this unit because it is smaller and weighs less than the two previous braille displays I own. This one easily fits in a side pocket of my backpack. By comparison, this gadget pairs well with my iPhone. Last April, I became an iPhone user and was given commands to use with my older braille display to enable Bluetooth ability. It didn’t work for me much of the time. Now, with Orbit Reader 20, I have a wireless connection to my phone that enables me to read or write anywhere and to skim through email and social media while I’m in front of the television. If I am dependent on my screen reader, I cannot hear well enough to multi-task. It’s been fun reading my first Kindle book.

On a somewhat negative note, I miss cursor routing keys that allow one to put your cursor anywhere in a document. Yes, I understand these were left out to lower the cost and because readers do not find them necessary, and I understand eventually, the machine may come out in another model with such frills. In addition, the dots refresh a bit slower than the dots on my displays that are sold for thousands of dollars. When the dots refresh, there is a little bit of whirring sound that I am not terribly bothered by but know some find annoying. While the dots are sturdier than on my expensive equipment, one of my dots refuses to go down at times, making reading somewhat confusing.

For the most part, I am happy with this product and look forward to seeing what changes as a result of the feedback gathered from the pilot program. I know there are bugs to work out, and I am truly grateful for all the technological advances I have seen throughout the years.

Additional Information and Resources

Orbit Reader 20 Review from AccessWorld – October 2016

APH – Orbit Reader 20 Details

APH – Orbit Reader 20

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