The History of KNFB Reader

A close up of the KNFB Reader app in action on an iPad. The screen shows how the app highlights the text as it reads it.KNFB Reader is a joint development effort of the National Federation of the Blind, Sensotec NV, and KNFB Reader LLC.  It is the result of over forty years of work by Dr. Ray Kurzweil, now Director of Engineering at Google, and the National Federation of the Blind to create print reading solutions for blind people. The collaboration began after Dr. Kurzweil's company, Kurzweil Computer Products, invented an omnifont print scanner that might help blind people read printed documents.

The first product to use the technology was the Kurzweil Reading Machine, which consisted of two large components – a scanner and a mini-computer – and was able to scan and read print materials aloud using one of the first computerized speech synthesizers. The Kurzweil Reading Machine was an overnight sensation and was even featured on the CBS Evening News, where it read Walter Cronkite's signature sign-off, "That's the way it was, January 13, 1976," in one of the very few instances where Mr. Cronkite did not deliver it himself.

The machine, however, was mainly purchased by libraries, universities, and other organizations because it was too expensive for most blind individuals to purchase for themselves. A later generation of reading machines used personal digital assistants (PDA's) and commercially available cameras to process and read documents. Mobile phones began to be used in 2009, particularly the Nokia family of cell phones using the Symbian operating system. The current KNFB Reader app was first released in September, 2014, for the iPhone and later for Android and Windows 10 devices. The app was demonstrated at the 2014 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind by James Gashel, vice president of business development and product evangelist at KNFB Reader, LLC and secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, and Dr. Kurzweil. 

About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization of blind people in the United States. Founded in 1940, the National Federation of the Blind:

  • Provides public education, literature, and materials to educate individuals about blindness
  • Offers hope, support, and encouragement to those who have lost or are losing vision
  • Distributes information and offers referral services
  • Provides numerous scholarships and Braille training to blind students
  • Develops specialized aids, appliances, and technology for the blind

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines blind people or their future. Everyday, the NFB raises the expectations of blind people and those around them, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and their dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

About Sensotec NV

Sensotec NV was founded in Bruges in 1986 as a company focused on the development of aids for blind children, their parents, and teachers in mainstream education. Over the years, their efforts have expanded to include the development, manufacturing, and distribution of highly sophisticated technological aids for the blind, visually impaired and individuals with reading and learning differences such as dyslexia. Sensotec is a proud partner in the development of KNFB Reader technologies.

Sensotec’s mission is to provide the most effective assistive technology solutions to people with a visual impairment, reading or learning difficulties and to support them in the efficient use of these solutions.


Valued partners include Google, Inc., Microsoft Corporation, and others.