Bill to Improve Access to Modern Reading Technologies for the Blind

Helen Keller National Center applauds Senators Schumer and Blunt on passage of their bill to improve access to modern reading technologies for the Blind


Provision in Government Accountability Office Report Recommended National Library System (NLS) Receive Appropriated Funds to Provide Refreshable Braille Devices.

Sands Point, NY…July 18, 2016…Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youths & Adults (HKNC), a division of Helen Keller Services (HKS), has expressed its thanks to United States Senators Charles E. Schumer and Roy Blunt for jointly introducing a bill to broaden the types of electronic media equipment the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) can provide to its users.  The bill passed the Senate on July 14, 2016.  The announcement was made by HKNC Executive Director Susan Ruzenski.

“Senator Schumer and his colleague Senator Blunt have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring that all Americans receive access to the same benefits as their fellow citizens,” observed Ruzenski.  “Passage of this bill will help the National Library System better serve individuals who are DeafBlind, now and in the future.”

Referencing his recently passed legislation, Senator Schumer stated, “The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a national treasure.  This simple, straightforward bill will help NLS acquire the cutting-edge technologies needed to bring its services into the 21st Century and improve educational access for tens of thousands of Americans.”

The bill was recommended in a Government Accountability Office report which stated, “To give NLS the opportunity to provide braille in a modernized format and potentially achieve cost savings, Congress should consider amending the law to allow the agency to use federal funds to provide its users playback equipment for electronic braille files (i.e., refreshable braille devices).”  The Schumer-Blunt bill aims to do just that and is similar to a provision of H.R. 5227 introduced in the House.

Digital, refreshable braille devices – or “braille e-readers” — that enable users to read electronically recorded materials are available on the commercial market.  These new technologies present a potentially transformative opportunity to combat illiteracy among the blind and open worlds of learning to tens of thousands of Americans.  For example, a braille-literate person with access to an e-reader today can immediately gain access to over 400 state, national, and international newspapers through NLS, which currently has 30,000 registered individual braille users. 

Scott Davert, HKNC Coordinator NY Deaf-Blind Telecommunications Program, believes that the real winners with Senators Schumer and Blunts’ bill will be the DeafBlind patrons who require braille access. 

“With the emergence of low cost braille solutions,” he explains, “the bill will open the doors even wider for people who are DeafBlind to gain access to the written word.  Not only will the braille technology assist in facilitating the cheaper delivery of braille material through the Talking Book Library System, but it will also allow patrons to connect to the world around them.  Braille displays today allow people with screen access software to connect to their favorite devices, narrowing the gap in communication between those with combined vision and hearing loss and their sighted and hearing counterparts.”

Helen Keller Services President and CEO Joseph Bruno concluded, “We applaud Senator Schumer and Senator Blunt for their continued work on behalf of blind people and people with vision loss everywhere. Their legislation will improve the NLS’ ability to serve the American people in this time of rapid electronic media innovation and allow the NLS to continually update as new technologies emerge.  For individuals served by Helen Keller Services, the new bill will provide a meaningful, lasting benefit.” 

Headquartered in Sands Point, New York, HKNC provides comprehensive vocational and independent living training to youths and adults who are DeafBlind.  It offers support and learning opportunities to professionals and family members, and maintains a National Registry of Persons who are Deaf-Blind.  The Center partners with other agencies across the United States to build their capacity to work with individuals who are DeafBlind.

HKNC is a division of Helen Keller Services.  For more information, go to

mary fu

Related Articles