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Braille on a Cell Phone? Check Out the 'Eyes-Free' Technology Helping the Visually Impaired


"...making obsolete the need for users to look at their devices while inputting text on them."

With the majority of smartphone devices, and many regular cellphones, turning toward flat touchscreen technology, you can imagine the challenge these devices could pose for those who are blind. But, several apps and technologies are emerging to make use of these devices easier on those who rely on braille to read or type.

One such app, still in its prototype phase, was developed by researchers at Georgia Tech as a method to help with texting based on the braille system, which uses touch to help the visually impaired read. The "eyes-free" technology used by BrailleTouch has resulted in users achieving up to 32 words per minute with 92 percent accuracy.

Watch how BrailleTouch works:

BrailleTouch works by using a "six-key configuration so that the keyboard fits on the screen and users keep their fingers in a relatively fixed position while texting". The researchers creating this technology explain that it will not only be useful for the visually impaired by could also have application for those with normal sight to text or use the device without looking:

“Research has shown that chorded, or gesture-based, texting is a viable solution for eyes-free written communication in the future, making obsolete the need for users to look at their devices while inputting text on them,” said Mario Romero, Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Interactive Computing (IC) and the project’s principal investigator.


“BrailleTouch is an out-of-the-box solution that will work with smartphones and tablets and allow users to start learning the Braille alphabet in a few minutes,” said Romero. “It also reduces the need for expensive proprietary Braille keyboard devices, which typically cost thousands of dollars.”

As this app continues its development to help those who are blind better use touchscreen devices, there is other technology to help the visually impaired read using barcode-scanning techniques if braille is not available. BarAille Communications has used barcode-scanning technology to help the visually impaired -- even those who are illiterate -- read for several years, but the emergence of smartphone apps that can scan the code makes the technology even more accessible.

Here's how it works: a high-density micro-barcode is scanned with one's cellphone. The text appears on the device but can also be recited in an audible manner in a variety of languages. In an email to the Blaze, the company described that the BarAille barcode patch is always positioned in the same area on a page -- inside the top margin of a page, for example.

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