Is the Canute Braille E-Reader worth it?


An e-reader featuring multi-line refreshable braille is close to being available at a similar price to an iPhone. Kevin Satizabal, our Online Communities Assistant, reviews the Canute braille e-reader and reflects on whether it could help to reverse the decline of braille.

“The world of braille displays is about to get a shakeup with products like Orbit Reader and Canute. Both offer radically cheaper prices, which will inevitably ramp up the competition and give more blind and partially sighted people a chance to access braille.”

Is braille declining?

Many people think of Braille as an outmoded form of communication for vision impaired people, with just 1% of blind people in the UK actively using braille on a daily basis. The majority are now using text-to-speech screen readers on smart phones and computers to access documents and to socialise online.

When Ed Rogers (founder of Bristol Braille) came into RSBC’s offices to demonstrate the Canute, I couldn’t help admiring his passion and determination to make his product succeed. He strongly believes the updated technology and affordability of the Canute is key to combating braille’s decline.

“Braille has consistently demonstrated all the benefits of reading and writing in print,” Ed explains, “No one would expect a sighted child to go through school without being taught how to read and write. No parent would be comfortable with their sighted child coming home and saying, ‘don’t worry, we don’t have to learn to read and write anymore. The teacher said the computer will do it for us.”

How does the Canute work?

The Canute is a stand-alone braille display. You can’t write or edit braille on it, but you can load braille and word documents on to it via a USB. It has nine lines of braille, 40 braille cells across. It has nine buttons down the left hand side (which highlight each of the lines), and one button on the far left and another on the far right to scroll back and forward a page.

There is also a home button at the bottom of the device which activates the Library where you can access all of your stored documents.

Each file name is presented on a separate line of the display, so opening a file is as easy as pressing the side button associated with the line the file is on. It is powered by open source e-book software, and the braille is produced by off-the-shelf motors and plastic components from laser cutters.

Loading a document

Once you find a document and press the side button to load it, the Canute begins to emboss the braille one line at a time, starting at the top of the document. This process will take about four seconds, but you can start reading the top line as soon as that appears.

How much will the Canute cost?

The Canute is set to retail between £600 – £800. It’s due to be released in Spring 2018.

So is the Canute worth buying?

Overall, the flexibility that you can get from a multi-line braille display and the affordability of the product has got me very excited about the Canute. I found the braille was sharp, clear and easy to read. The multiple lines made it feel like I was reading braille on a piece of paper. I can see this would benefit students or office workers especially when reading through large spreadsheets or tables, a process which can be very time consuming using a screen reader.

I hope the load time for documents can be reduced as the Canute develops further, as this would speed up my working, but the potential for the Canute to put braille in front of more blind students and workers is huge. The Canute makes working with data and tables much easier, which could open up more doors in careers like analysis, for example. I for one will be keeping my fingers crossed for its success.

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