Cell Phone Reads to the Blind A new cell phone offers the smallest text-to-speech reading device ever built, a device especially useful for people with impaired vision. The phone and software come with a $2,000 price tag.
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Cell Phone Reads to the Blind

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Cell Phone Reads to the Blind

Cell Phone Reads to the Blind

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

These days it seems like cell phones can do just about everything - take photos, send e-mail, let you listen to music or watch a movie. Okay, how about a phone that can look at printed words and read them to you out loud?

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has this report on a new cell phone being marketed to people who are blind.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: If you're a person with normal vision who can read, there are thousands of things you do every day without even thinking about it. Little problems you solve with just a glance.

Mr. JAMES GASHEL (K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc.): You know how those bags are in the hotel where you want to make the coffee? How many of you know the caffeinated from the decaf?

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. GASHEL: Yeah. I know it every single morning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: James Gashel is blind. But he can get his caffeine fix with help from his cell phone.

Mr. GASHEL: All you have to do is snap a picture of the bag and it tells you.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Gashel is showing off his new phone in a hotel ballroom filled with people who have come to check it out. Many are holding white canes. There's a seeing eye dog resting by the walls. Everyone listens to the small silver phone as Gashel holds it a few inches above a green rectangle.

CELL PHONE VOICE: Taking picture.

(Soundbite of clicking)

CELL PHONE VOICE: Detecting orientation, processing U.S. currency image, please wait.

(Soundbite of crowd)

CELL PHONE VOICE: Twenty dollars.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The phone is loaded up with software developed by the company that Gashel works for. It's called K-NFB Reading Technology. That's K as in Kurzweil, the inventor Ray Kurzweil, and NFB as in the National Federation of the Blind.

Besides reading labels and telling a 20 from a 10, the phone can read pages of printed text. Gashel holds it over a sheet of paper.

Mr. GASHEL: Pictures is snapped. Now I've put the reader down.

CELL PHONE VOICE: Proceeding to a specific location is a journey. Progressing to an unidentified destination is adventure. In other words, if you know where you're going, it's travel; if you don't, it's exploration.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Reading machines have been around for decades. This company already makes a hand-held device. But this reader is the smallest yet, just four ounces and a few inches long, and it's in a high-end Nokia phone with features like an MP3 player, high-speed data connection, and a GPS navigation system.

That's appealing to people like Mike Hanson(ph) from Minnesota. He uses a desktop reading machine for all kinds of things.

Mr. MIKE HANSON (Lawyer): Books, mails, bills. I'm a lawyer, so I will use it to read materials related to cases I'm working on.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But he never wanted a hand-held reader before. He saw it as just one more gadget to lug around. This multi-functional cell phone though is a different story.

Mr. HANSON: Yeah. It's next on my list of technology items to seriously consider.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It's not an impulse buy, he says. The phone plus the software costs around $2,000.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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