The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) today unveils a groundbreaking new device, the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader. The portable Reader, developed by the National Federation of the Blind and renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil, enables users to take pictures of and read most printed materials at the click of a button. Users merely hold “the camera that talks” over print-a letter, bills, a restaurant menu, an airline ticket, a business card, or an office memo-and in seconds they hear the contents of the printed document played back in clear synthetic speech. Combining a state-of-the-art digital camera with a powerful personal data assistant, the Reader puts the best available character-recognition software together with text-to-speech conversion technology-all in a single handheld device.
Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The world of the printed word is about to be opened to the blind in a way it has never been before. No other device in the history of technology for the blind and visually impaired has provided quicker access to more information. The NFB promotes a positive attitude towards blindness, and this Reader will make blind and visually impaired people dramatically more independent. The result will be better performance at work, at school, at home, and everywhere else we go. This Reader substantially improves the quality of life for the growing number of blind and visually impaired people.”
The Reader offers people quick access to information, is portable, and can store thousands of printed pages with easily obtainable extra memory. Also users can transfer files to their desktop and laptop computers or to their Braille notetakers in minutes. The Reader has a headphone jack as well, so users do not have to disturb others in close proximity.
The National Federation of the Blind helped fund the development and production of the Reader and helped plan and design its user interface. As many as 500 NFB Pioneers across the country have piloted the Reader during the beta-testing process and these users have been absolutely thrilled with the capabilities of the Reader.
Gary Wunder, a computer programmer analyst with the University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics in Columbia, Missouri, said: “This little machine has completely changed my awareness about the print around me and has given me access that I never dreamed possible before. It is amazing to go to a public event and actually read the program, to go to a work meeting and be able to read the handout which someone has forgotten to send to me in advance. What a thrill it is to take a business card and get the information from it quickly enough to remember why I took the card in the first place. For the first time in my life I looked at the magazines in the seat pocket of a commercial airliner, and reading a restaurant menu is awesome.”
The Reader is the result of a joint venture between the NFB and Ray Kurzweil, chief executive officer of K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc. Kurzweil, who has been dubbed the Thomas Edison of the 21st century, is an inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist. Kurzweil was the chief developer of the first omni-font optical character-recognition technology, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed, large-vocabulary speech recognition engine. In 1999, Kurzweil received the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony.
The Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader costs about the same as many flat screen televisions today, with an expected retail price of $3,495, and yet has the power to revolutionize a person’s life. Sales will be handled by Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc., based in Bedford, Massachusetts, and its national distribution channel of dealers. The Reader’s convenient size, simple design, and powerful technology deliver unprecedented access to printed matter. After several minutes of practice, users can begin accessing a wealth of print information in ways they never have before.
James Gashel, NFB’s Executive Director for Strategic Initiatives, said: “Every year 75,000 more people will become blind or visually impaired in this country. As America’s aging population soars over the next few decades, so too will the incidence of visual impairment and blindness. The Reader will help not only blind individuals, but older Americans who wish to stay independent and age with dignity.”
Readers go on sale beginning July 1, 2006. Those interested in purchasing the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader can call (877) 708-1724 or visit www.nfb.org. They may also buy them in the Khmer Pavilion, located in Atrium 1, third level, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas during the NFB’s convention.