Developers at the University of Michigan are nearing the end of a project that will allow blind people to participate in digital culture much more readily than ever before.

While those without visual impairments often rely on screens, laptops, and tablets to help them accomplish tasks, the technology to allow blind people to do the same has been sorely lacking.

Refreshable braille technology has existed for a long period of time, but it hasn’t allowed blind people to interact with graphs, spreadsheets, and photographs. The current refreshable braille technology also currently exists at one line at a time, significantly slowing down the ability to accomplish tasks quickly and in a time-effective manner. This technology was introduced in the late 1980’s and hasn’t been updated significantly since then.

The tablet, known as the Holy Braille, incorporates both text and “tactile graphics” (graphics than can be felt). It also allows blind people to surf the web in a way they were previously unable to do using available technologies.

The technology uses air pressure to push bubbles up that can be felt to allow the blind person to feel what is on the page. The tablet itself is covered with a thin membrane so that it feels like traditional braille text.

Chancey Fleet, a visually impaired teacher, stated in an interview that if she had a tactile tablet, she would be able to accomplish many tasks in one third of the time it typically takes her. Fleet used the example of setting up a floor plan for her school’s fair, which she says could be more easily done if she were able to create a drawing of where tables were supposed to be by dragging and dropping them in place – the way a user without a visual impairment would be able to do. [1]

The Holy Braille tablet was one of ten inventions to win a 2016 Invention Award. The tablet itself will cost around $1000 to $2000 once it is finished and include up to 10,000 braille dots. [2]

This technology could usher in a whole new era with how the visually-impaired interact with data and possibly even open up new career opportunities for them.

Sources:

[1] Huffington Post 

[2] Popular Science


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Post written byAnna Scanlon:
Anna Scanlon is an author of YA and historical fiction and a PhD student at the University of Leicester where she is finishing her degree in modern history.