While many hands have wrung over the allegedly eminent “death of the printed book” due to e-readers, that’s actually not the case reported reading both e- and regular books. Not exactly a death spiral.
Braille books, however, being much more unwieldy and expensive than traditional printed books, have felt the e-reader presence more so. In 1963, over 60% of blind students used Braille books for reading; by 2011 that number had dropped to just 11%. Experts believe the rapidly improving speech-to-text technology is the primary reason for the drop, but availability and accessibility of e-books has also contributed.
But for those who appreciate the tactile experience of a good read through Braille, along with the cognitive benefits that accompany the act of reading, Harvard is coming to the rescue with reprogrammable Braille books. The method: a stylus imprints dots on a flexible elastic shell (which retains the imprints of the stylus), but readers have the ability to “erase” the imprints, allowing different configurations to replace the originals. This process would make Braille books infinitely easier to produce, as well as minimize their bulk– the Braille version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix(already quite a sizeable tome) contains a whopping 30% more pages than its regular printed version.
While there is still much work to be done to refine the process, researchers are excited by the prospect. Stay tuned for the next evolution of Braille books.