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‘Snap and Translate’ on a Cell Phone

July 28 2009 | by


f you’re going to buy assistive technology, there’s no doubt you can put your trust in Ray Kurzweil, a 30-year industry pioneer who invented the world’s first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind.

knfb Reading Technology, a joint venture of Kurzweil Technologies and The National Federation of the Blind, recently debuted the smallest text-to-speech reading devices in history for people with print disabilities. The kReader Mobile helps those with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, while the knfb Reader Mobile is designed for the blind and visually impaired.

These devices are a Nokia N82 cell phone with a five-pixel camera loaded with character-recognition and text-to-speech software from knfb Reading Technology. The phone can snap pictures of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot, including a book, email, restaurant menu, receipt or sign. It can even read U.S. currency to help a blind person know whether he’s using a $5 or $20 bill.

Once the text is translated into speech it can be dropped into an email or put into a search engine. And these phones can read print in 16 languages and can translate from any of these languages to any other.

In addition to reading text aloud, blind and visually impaired people can use a screen reader to make the phone fully accessible, including making calls and accessing their contacts and calendars. The knfbReader Mobile has a voice recorder and music player, as well as an accessible GPS program, which is extremely helpful for helping navigate streets and unfamiliar areas using audio GPS.

There are a few drawbacks to the device. For one, stylized script doesn’t always get translated perfectly. The Reader can’t decipher handwritten text, or text that’s wrapped around canned goods or prescription bottles. But it can read recipes, mail, and other documents that help blind people live more independently.

“I just finished sorting today’s mail. I didn’t have to interrupt my son or daughter, I didn’t have to wait for a pair of eyes, and my wife does not have to spend time sorting,” says Mark Feliz, who is blind and uses the knfbReader Mobile.

The Reader costs $995 plus $300-$400 for the Nokia phone. (You can find a dealer in your state at Despite its cost, the device provides a huge benefit to those who, in the past, had to rely on a large reading machine, or a family member, to read simple documents — and now it’s a ‘snap.’

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  5. Book Readers React to Kindle Text-to-Speech Debacle