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In Pursuit of an Affordable Tablet for the Blind

19 January 2016

From MIT Technology Review:

An inexpensive, full-page Braille tablet could make topics like science and math more easily accessible to the blind, according to a team of researchers who have built a prototype device.

The device, which is under development at the University of Michigan, uses liquid or air to fill tiny bubbles, which then pop up and create the blocks of raised dots that make up Braille. Each bubble has what is essentially a logic gate that opens or remains closed to control the flow of liquid after each command.

. . . .

Existing refreshable Braille displays tend to max out at one line of text and cost several thousand dollars. They use plastic pins pushed up and down by a motor. The Michigan team found it impossible to pack the pins in densely enough to create a reasonably sized full-page display, and as a result started from scratch with the microfluidic option. The switch could help them make the final product tablet-sized instead of laptop-sized, like existing refreshable displays.

. . . .

“My observation is that, currently, even many of us who read Braille well find reading it with single-line Braille displays slower and more tiring than using text-to-speech or audio materials,” says Chris Danielsen, a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind. “I think this would dramatically change with a larger display, especially one at a reasonable price point.”

. . . .

“Anything where you want to be able to see stuff written down, like coding or music or even just mathematics, you really have to work in Braille,” says O’Modhrain, who is visually impaired. “That just means for a lot of people these things are not accessible or not available.”

Link to the rest at MIT Technology Review

 

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6 Comments to “In Pursuit of an Affordable Tablet for the Blind”

  1. Two problems with this idea:

    One, the tech is years and years away from going to market.

    Two, there’s no way in hell this will be “inexpensive”. There are less than a million and a half legally blind people in the US, and only 10% either know Braille or are learning it. So unless you can find another use for the panel that is going to go into the tablet, and thus reduce the manufacturing cost, we’re still looking at a retail price of thousands of dollars.

    Or did I miss something in my pessimism?

    • Another potential problem: The elderly blind people I’ve known have lost sensitivity in their fingertips as they’ve aged.

  2. Another major hurdle is that websites are made for the sighted, with little to no thought of some alternate way of ‘reading’ it.

    It wouldn’t be all that hard to rig a device to read off the titles in it and then read to book to someone — but navigating a random website (with pop up/under/over ads!) can be a nightmare.

    As far as their bubble/pin board? sounds interesting for those that can read Braille, but I have a feeling the ‘pins’ won’t ‘wear/last’ very long in the real world.

    • Actually, all, or most, Microsoft software, including IE, is designed to be compatible with JAWS, a screen reading application that makes screens audible for blind and visually impaired computer users and other companies have adopted JAWS compatibility.

      When I was designing applications I had several blind customers who were eager for applications ready for JAWS. We tried to help. The company I was working for decided to make all their Windows applications JAWS compatible. The company was large with several hundred applications on the market, so it was a big commitment, although making an application JAWS compatible is mostly time-consuming rather than difficult.

      I haven’t been involved with that side of development for several years, but I think JAWS is still going strong.

  3. I am blind, and honestly, I find that using my iPad is a lot easier.
    I was never really a big fan of jaws, stupidly expensive and extremely temperamental.

  4. There are many different kinds of not being able to see. A friend is legally blind and can do anything, including hiking the mountains, rappelling, cooking, grocery shopping, play music, dance, raise dogs, write, paint, everything except drive. Others of our friends can see light and shadow. Others not. Some were born this way. Some had an accident or an illness.

    I know it is not the same as the person being able to read, but we read for the blind– other people’s work, as well as license [for free] our own works to be read by other voices, and used in full audio for those who cannot see well enough to read, or read at length. I would urge those who would like to do so also, to call your local ‘readers for the blind’ [called many things depending on where]… they always need volunteers to read magazines, current events, books, and more.

    I hope someday, there will be an elegant screen one wears like wrap sunglasses and will project text onto the back of the retina which will fire it in such a way that a person will read from another part of the eye that has not yet been discovered. But will be. Like mirrors placed at angles to one another, that could see around corners, only based on neuro firingsand parts perhaps of eye not normally used for primary sight, but if enhanced might be able to see dark shapes of letters for instance. Im not smart enough to know or say, I just hope for those who wish, that they can have more of what they wish.

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