International Braille and Technology Center
for the Blind (IBTC)

Students looking at notetakers at an event at the Jernigan Institute

A comprehensive evaluation, demonstration, and training technology center which contains over $2 million worth of speech and Braille technology.

Established in 1990 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind


Picture of the International Braille and Technology Center

What Does the IBTC Do? 

  • Adaptive technology demonstrations
  • Comparative evaluations 
  • Individual and group instruction
  • Cost comparisons
  • Assistance complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other accessibility laws
  • Personal and telephone consultation
  • Website design strategies to ensure nonvisual access

Who Can Benefit from the IBTC? 

  • Blind persons
  • Low-vision persons
  • Employers
  • Information technology, rehabilitation, and other professionals
  • Vendors of technology
  • Family members
  • Members of the public
  • State and federal government technology professionals

Technology, Blindness, and the NFB 

Ellen Ringlein demonstrating small electronic technologiesThe computer age has brought about tremendous advances in technology for all people, including the blind. The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, part of the Jernigan Institute, is the world's most extensive demonstration and evaluation center for computer-related technology serving the needs of blind persons. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), in cooperation with other organizations, has made a commitment to maintain this unique facility as a resource for the blind of the world.

Whether one is blind or sighted, the ability to access and manipulate electronic information and control the technology through which such information is obtained are crucial elements which help to determine whether an individual is able to compete with his or her peers.

A critical factor, one that is unique to the blind, is nonvisual access to electronic information and controls. If nonvisual access is available, the blind are able to deal with electronic information and technology as well as their sighted peers. However, if a piece of technology incorporates purely visual features, such as touch-screen buttons or purely graphical (nontextual) information, then the technology which may have been hailed as a historic advance for the community at large, represents a step backward for the blind.

The National Federation of the Blind 

Ann Taylor using a notetaker in the IBTC

The NFB is a membership organization of blind persons, parents of blind children, and interested others. The programs and policies of the National Federation of the Blind, founded in 1940, are centered around the belief that the real problems of blindness are the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist about this characteristic. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. But proper training and opportunity are essential!

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute leads the quest to understand the real problems of blindness and to develop innovative education, technologies, products, and services that help the world's blind to achieve independence.

Jernigan Institute Initiatives:

  • Research, develop, and support the commercialization of technologies for meeting the needs of the blind as articulated by the world's blind population
  • Develop innovative training methods and education for the entire blind population with special emphasis on underserved populations, e.g., blind seniors and blind children
  • Improve nonvisual access to and use of information through innovative technologies and Braille education
  • Evaluate, develop, and implement programs to increase employment opportunities for the blind

Who wants to spend thousands of dollars for equipment when one has never had the opportunity to see it in operation, to talk to someone who has used it, to compare it to other similar devices, to know something of its reliability and durability, or to determine its capacity to meet real-life, on-the-job, or personal needs in a practical way?

A hands-on training class

No one does, of course. Yet, this has often been the only option available to would-be purchasers of specialized access technology for the blind. Unlike their sighted counterparts, blind people are not able to purchase equipment that is accessible to them at their local computer stores. The companies producing Braille and speech access devices for computers tend to be small firms which do not have local outlets. At best it has been possible to get hands-on experience with only a few devices and, even then, under circumstances that make true comparative evaluations virtually impossible. The IBTC meets this unmet need.

 The IBTC serves as a nerve center and laboratory to:

  • Stimulate the use and development of technology for the blind
  • Facilitate comparative evaluation of state-of-the-art technological devices
  • Operate a test site for innovative technologies
  • Function as a hands-on training center for blind individuals and other interested persons and groups

The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind houses a continually changing collection of equipment (hardware) and programs (software). Newly developed devices come on the market and existing ones become obsolete at a rapid rate. In all, the Center contains more than $2 million of access technology for the blind.

The Access Technology Team extends the work done in the IBTC through the Technology Center section of the NFB Web site. The site hosts a list of access technology available in the United States, as well as a list of usable consumer electronics.

Technology resource list
Usable consumer electronics

The team also maintains the Access Technology Blog with first-hand stories about using access technology.

Finally, the latest tips for users, directly from the technology manufacturers, can be found on Access Technology Tips.

A woman using a Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader

The IBTC will continue to purchase technology in the following catagories

  • Computer-driven Braille embossing devices
    These devices range in speed from less than a dozen characters per second to more than 1,200 pages per hour
  • Braille translation programs
    Software that converts print into Braille
  • Speech-output screen access technology
    Software that translates information on the computer to speech
  • PC-based optical character recognition
    Software that converts text to synthetic speech using a standard PC with conventional scanners
  • Refreshable Braille displays
    Mechanical Braille displays that present information on the computer screen in refreshable Braille
  • Electronic note-taking devices
    Speech- and Braille-output portable note takers
  • Tactile Graphics
    Devices which produce graphics using raised dots or lines
  • Stand-alone reading machines
    Devices that scan a printed page and translate text into spoken words
  • Other speech- and/or Braille-output equipment 

The commitment of financial resources, personnel, and physical facilities to achieve and maintain the equipment acquisition and operating goals of the IBTC is enormous. Nowhere else in the world does a collection of technological devices such as this exist. The IBTC displays hundreds of devices and software programs. The list of specific equipment changes on a continual basis.

Technology Consultation Available

A training session taking place in the IBTC

Experienced staff of the Access Technology Team is available to answer questions about all manner of access technology for the blind, either in person, by e-mail, or over the telephone.

Here is an illustrative list of some of the questions we receive:

What do I need to get a blind person "online" and connected to the Internet?

What screen-access program works well with Web-browsing software?

Should I buy a reading system that is designed specifically for the blind, or will I be OK with a commercial, off-the-shelf optical character recognition program?

Can blind people run Windows and Windows applications?

What do I need to buy to make this happen?

How can I make my Web page accessible to the blind?

What electronic note taker is "best" for a person who is blind?

We welcome your questions. You can be sure that whether you contact us by phone or pay us a personal visit, we will do our very best to answer your questions about access technologies for the blind.

How to Reach Us:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
     at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314, option 5
Fax: (410) 659-5129

Rev. 5/12