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A new way of reading for the blind

Finalist for European Inventor of the Year 2009 in the “Lifetime Achievement” category

Ordinary magazines or newspapers used to be impossible to read for blind people. Alternatives in Braille are limited - and a significant number of blind people do not use Braille lettering. But a new world of reading material opened up in 2007 when French inventor Raoul Parienti introduced his "Top Braille" reading assistant.

Raoul Parienti

At a glance

Inventor(s): Raoul Parienti (FR)

Invention: Reading assisting device "Top Braille" 

Sector: Electronics

Company: Vision SAS

There are an estimated 30 million blind and visually impaired people in the European Union. This number is likely to increase significantly as the EU population ages.

Public infrastructure for the blind is improving. But ordinary reading materials - not printed in Braille lettering - remain inaccessible without assistance. And not all blind people use Braille. In France, only 15% of the visually impaired use the Braille alphabet.

Searching for a way to improve the situation, French engineer Raoul Parienti asked if a device could ever convert printed text into Braille lettering or audio signals.

Patented in 1999, Parienti's reading assistant looks similar to a computer mouse and weighs less than 100 grams. It features a built-in micro camera and sensors connected to a microprocessor.

Users move the device across printed text and track the text letter-by-letter. The letters manifest in Braille on a tactile surface with six electromagnetic "dots" under the user's index finger.

The letters can also be announced as speech via built-in audio speakers. The speakers send a warning signal when users scan outside a printed line - an important feedback function.

In April 2007, Parienti's company Vision SAS rolled out the product under the name "Top-Braille" with distribution in 15 countries.

The 60-year-old inventor has received critical acclaim for improving the standard of living for blind people. He was named Inventor of the Year 2007 by L'Usine Nouvelle in France. Parienti is a "serial inventor" with numerous patents to his name, including household devices, electronic payment systems and GPS solutions.

Read the story behind the “Top Braille” reading device

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