November 2016


Welcome to A2i’s November newsletter

Huge changes are afoot in the Braille world. This month we’re excited to tell you about the Canute – a new affordable Braille e-book reader from fellow Bristolians, Bristol Braille Technology. We fill you in on what’s been called the world’s first Kindle for Braille readers.

This month we introduce Alice Clark from the A2i team… long-time member of staff, squash aficionado, and (no doubt exhausted) mum to new baby girl Bethany!

 And finally, we need to let you know our Christmas opening times. There. We’ve mentioned it. If you want accessible formats before Christmas, get your orders in quick.


A close-up of the Canute refreshable Braille readerTurning the tide: Canute – the world’s first affordable multiline Braille ebook reader

For many visually impaired people, Braille means freedom and independence. Yet the recent explosion in affordable digital e-readers such as the Kindle has not been matched for people who read Braille. Digital Braille displays have been both expensive and limited – until now! The soon-to-be-launched Canute is an affordable digital Braille reader and heralds the start of the democratisation of Braille literacy, increasing opportunities for tactile reading.

In recent years Braille literacy has, unfortunately, been in decline. Various factors have contributed to this, including the wide-spread use of text-to-speech software. Although audio formats are favoured by many people who are print-disabled, audio is not always suitable or convenient. That’s not to say that one format is better than the other, but that they are often complementary, with each format having its own distinct functions and advantages, depending on the context.

Braille is important in its ability to enable people to read silently and independently, at their own rate, and while listening to something else. Consider how often sighted people might read during a meeting or conference, or even while listening to the TV or radio. Braille enables this reading experience for blind and partially-sighted people, too.  However, the developments in refreshable Braille technology signal a positive step for Braille, and we anticipate that the Canute (and other refreshable Braille readers in development) with its affordable price, will address this decline in Braille literacy, and enable Braille users to access a wider variety of texts and in an affordable way.

What is a refreshable Braille display?
If you’re not familiar with refreshable Braille displays, they are electronic devices which can display 3D Braille characters on an otherwise flat surface. This display is temporary, so when another page or document is loaded, it is ‘refreshed’, much like a text based display on a Kindle. A ‘refreshable’ Braille display avoids the need to carry around bulkier paper-based Braille documents. Refreshable Braille is especially useful for books, which can run to several volumes in the paper Braille format.

How is the Canute different?
Refreshable Braille displays have conventionally used electro-mechanics, which pushes pins through holes in a flat surface to create the 3D Braille characters. This technology is prohibitively expensive, stifling the development of Braille displays as a consumer product.  The Canute, developed by Bristol Braille Technology (BBT), uses different technology. The not-for-profit organisation uses open source software and off-the-shelf internal parts, resulting in a far more affordable- and adaptable product. BBT passes on the savings of using this different method to the buyer – with the specific aim of working to reverse the decline in Braille literacy amongst blind and visually impaired people.

Apart from being much cheaper, the Canute can display up to nine Braille lines, each containing up to 40 characters (or cells), which means that more complex documents – such as tables, calendars, maths and music – can also be displayed. This differs from existing refreshable Braille displays, which often display only one or two lines. Books or texts in special Braille-formatted files are loaded into the Canute’s memory via a USB, and, just like a Kindle or other e-book reader, can be stored in its library.

When will Canute be available?
Bristol Braille Technology have carried out extensive testing of the Canute with Braille readers around the world, and the Canute is currently undergoing final tests. We’ll bring you news of the product launch date as soon as we know. Bristol Braille currently anticipate that the Canute will be available to purchase in early 2017. Although the price has not yet been finalised, they are aiming to sell it to individuals for less than the price of a Perkins Braille Writer (currently retailing around £670 in the UK).

 Gaela Benn, one of the Canute’s first Braille users, says:
“I cannot find the words to say how great the work is that you and your colleagues are doing to make a Braille unit that it is accessible to everyone … It will make such a huge difference to so many, many people.” Gaela Benn, October 2012 

Bristol Braille Technology reminds us that “Braille is literacy, employment and independence”. With these huge improvements in refreshable Braille technology, A2i hopes to see trends in Braille illiteracy reversed.

For more information, visit Bristol Braille Technology’s website:

Meet Alice Clark, A2i’s Marketing Manager…

Photo of Alice Clark, A2i Marketing Manager

Alice was A2i’s first employee, working with Susie – the founder – since 2002. Taking responsibility for promoting A2i’s transcription services from early on, she has helped develop the company into what it is today. Alice has an encyclopaedic knowledge of transcription processes, and is always happy to answer customer queries on the best way to make their documents accessible for their print-disabled readers. Alice has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl Bethany, so will be off on maternity leave for a few months… we’re looking forward to her return already! Find out a bit more about Alice Clark…

How long have you been at A2i?
I started working at A2i in 2002, when I moved to Bristol from the Midlands. So much has changed since then! During that time the company has moved office three times as the number of staff that work here has increased, and now offers many more services and products that we did in 2002.  When I started working here, we used to only have one Braille embosser – now we have seven!

The main audio format we produced was tape – a format most young people nowadays have never seen, let alone use. Now our main audio formats are CD and mp3.

We have added Braille business cards, tactile diagrams, Large Print diagrams, Easy Read, foreign language translation, DAISY, podcasts, full colour Large Print (GDA), Audiobooks and an online shop to the services and products we provide.

What do you do at A2i?
As one of the longer serving members of staff here I often do a bit of everything. My main roles are marketing, as well as customer liaison and account management. But I also get involved with the transcription of documents, recruitment, training and quality checks for new members of staff, as well as managing the team.

What do you like about working for A2i?
I love the variety that my role and the company offers. No two days are ever the same, as there are a range of tasks to complete, and all of our customers’ needs and their documents vary so widely.

I also really like the great team atmosphere at A2i, with everyone happy to help each other if needed!

What are you interests outside of work?
My main sport is squash, which I play as often as possible. I’m in a ladies team at my local club, and play for Avon County, too. I also play tennis and softball, and enjoy going for a swim.

I am married with a toddler, and we have another baby on the way so I think I will have to play a bit less squash than I’d like for the next few years!

What do you like about living in Bristol?
Bristol has so much going on, it’s a great place to live. In the summer, there seems to be a different festival or event every weekend. I also think it has all the benefits of a city, but it is small. So it is quick and easy to get around, with lots of great places to visit close together, like the city centre, the docks, and the Downs.

Congratulations to Alice and Matt – and hello baby Bethany!

Photo of Christmas tree baublesChristmas opening times

Ho! Ho! Ho? Yes, it really is that time of year already. A2i will be closing over the Christmas period from 4pm on Thursday 22 December, and we’ll re-open at 10am on Tuesday 3 January.

If you want your accessible formats before Christmas…
Our standard turnaround time is three days to dispatch (dependent on quotation). To enable us to meet the Royal Mail recommended last posting dates (which is Wednesday 21 December for First Class mail and Tuesday the 20 December for Second Class mail), you will need to place your order with us no later than:

So, if you’ve been meaning to send us your documents for transcription, simply email them over for a quick quote, or contact us for a chat about your transcription project. We’d be happy to help!

Tel: 01179 44 00 44
Follow us on twitter: @A2iTranscribes
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 Image: By Kris de Curtis [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons