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A blind person using the phone can both send and receive text messages in braille. (Sumit Dagar)

A Smartphone for the Blind

Scientists in India develop a smartphone that uses Braille

By Tyrus Cukavac | May 1 , 2013

This phone brings a new meaning to the phrase touch screen! Scientists in India have developed a prototype, or test model, of a new phone that translates text into Braille.

Braille is a system of reading and writing for blind people. Instead of using words that a blind person cannot see, Braille uses raised bumps on a surface that a person can feel with his or her fingertips. Different combinations of raised dots represent letters or numbers. A reader touches the bumps to read words and sentences.

The prototype Braille smartphone uses a touch screen made with lots of tiny pins. The pins raise or lower depending on what words the screen needs to display.

Until now, sound-based tools such as Apple’s Siri have helped visually impaired (blind or partially blind) people interact with their phones. But many phone apps require seeing text and images. This new phone can help people who cannot see or have difficulty seeing to take advantage of smartphone technology.

But the phone doesn’t just display Braille letters. The technology can also show pictures, maps and charts, and even videos. The raised pins create an outline of any images that the user can then explore with his or her fingertips.

A BUMPY HISTORY

Braille was developed in 1824 by Louis Braille, then a 15-year-old at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. He based it on a system called night writing, which soldiers used to communicate at night.

Braille was enormously popular among visually impaired people after its creation. But now fewer people are learning the system. In 1960, 50 percent of blind school children in the United States could read Braille. But by 2007, only 10 percent of blind American children were able to do so.

Part of the reason is that Braille is expensive to teach, and many schools do not have the resources to provide Braille education. Schools need to buy special Braille books. They also need to hire additional teachers to teach the system to blind children. But the availability of the Braille smartphone might give schools more encouragement to teach the system.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE

Sumit Dagar, the inventor of the Braille phone, hopes to give new opportunities to blind people in his home country of India. Twenty-two percent of the world’s visually impaired people live there, according to The Times of India.

Dagar has spent three years developing the smartphone with a team from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He and his team hope to start selling it by the end of the year.

“The response during the test has been immense. It comes out as a companion more than a phone to the user,” Dagar tells The Times of India. “We plan to do more-advanced versions of the phone in the future.”

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    In a poignant biography, a young man, determined to reap the benefits of literature, develops a system of reading for the blind.

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